Counteroffers: What sellers need to know
Julie Garton-Good, GRI, DREI

You've found a buyer and she's made an offer. But the offer is not quite what you were looking for, so you make a counteroffer back to the buyer. A good idea? Maybe. To be a strong, in-control seller, it's imperative that you understand the good, the bad, and the not-so-good regarding counteroffers. So let's explore what a counteroffer is, how it works, and how you can use it to best advantage.

When counteroffers occur:Counteroffers are replies to original offers (as the name implies). Just like making a verbal counter-point to another person's statement, the counteroffer is a response to an original offer. For example, the buyer asks that you leave the washer and the dryer with the house. You decline and counter back to the buyer with the washer and dryer marked off of the personal property section of the contract. You have made a counteroffer.

Counteroffer snafu: It sounds simple. But there's one twist. A counter offer is an entirely new offer, one that the buyer doesn't have to accept. Any change, no matter how minor, voids the first offer, and the buyer is under no legal obligation to respond to the new offer. This means that even though the buyer first offered to pay full-price (in cash) for the house, you may have just killed the sale because you balked at leaving the washer and dryer worth $200!

Communicating your acceptance:There's an additional point to understand regarding offers of all kinds (counter or otherwise): The offer or (the person making the offer) has the right to withdraw the offer prior to it being accepted and that acceptance being communicated back to the offeror. This means that a buyer could withdraw the offer (with earnest money being returned) anytime prior to receiving word that you accepted the offer.

For example, you are trying to decide whether or not to accept a buyer's offer when you receive a call stating that she is revoking her offer and purchasing another property. Or worse yet, you accept the buyer's offer, and, in your state of euphoria, forget to call her to relate your acceptance. Prior to hearing from you, the buyer could withdraw the offer.

When counteroffers make sense:Does this mean that you should never make counter-offers to a buyer? No, but make sure you know the price you pay if you do! The buyer doesn't have to accept the offer, can walk away from the sale---can even counter back at terms more in his favor and less in yours. Make sure you weigh the pros and cons before proceeding and be ready to accept the consequences. In general, win/win negotiating will take you a long way in making and accepting counter offers. If you keep the other party's position in mind when negotiating, meeting the buyer half way will be easier to do and more productive as well.