What to do when a seller’s asking price seems unrealistically high

August 10, 2013

We are trying to buy a home and would like to hire a reputable home appraiser to look at the property to get a real sense of what it is worth.

We have had a real estate agent look at the property and pull up some comparable valuations, but the issue is the seller’s asking price of $750,000, which is well above fair-market value.

The price is so high that we feel that even if somebody offered that price, any bank would turn down the buyers because it wouldn’t come close to appraising out in value.

That said, the house is tough to value because it’s not in a neighborhood and was built and has been owned by one person since 2001. It is located on a somewhat busy surface street but sits on 1.8 acres, so it doesn’t really feel that busy.

We already made an offer of $500,000, which we felt was fair based on the comps generated by our agent. Unfortunately, the seller rejected our offer and did not counter.

My wife and I have continued to look at other houses but cannot find anything that will meet our growing family’s needs. So now I want to make another offer but would like to include some kind of price/value opinion. I would pay “fair market” for the property, but I feel like some kind of appraisal professional could offer more input.

What do you think?

I do think you would benefit from having a discussion with an appraiser, for two reasons.

First, you’ll be able to determine how a bank would look at the value of the property, which is important if you need a mortgage. Second, you’ll have some hard data about the true nature of sales in the area to bolster your argument when you go back to the seller with another offer.

Clearly, the owner wants as much money as possible and may have overbuilt on the property in 2001, which would have been like purchasing the property in 2006 or 2007, when prices were sky-high. If the owner put $1 million into the property and it declined in value by 30 percent, it’s worth roughly $700,000 (in his mind). Perhaps he’s asking $750,000 in hopes of getting $700,000.

But if the owner has a mortgage for $700,000, you could understand why an offer of $500,000 would be difficult, if not impossible, to accept.

Unless the owner is rolling in dough, he’d have to go to the mortgage lender and arrange for a short sale. The owner may have too many assets for a true short sale, and the lender may simply decline to agree to the sale. That would put the owner in a truly tough spot.

You should try to find out more information about the seller and his circumstances.

You could do some digging to try to find out whether he has a mortgage and for how much. This may be public record in your area, and it may even be online with the local recorder of deeds or office that handles document recordings. You should have your agent talk to the seller’s agent about the property and his motivations and timing for a sale.

Remember, the seller doesn’t have to sell his house to you — or anyone, unless there is a third party pressuring him to unload this asset. To get what you want, for a price you’re willing to pay, will require some deeper thought and research. And it still may be impossible to come to a deal unless you’re willing to pay the seller’s minimum sale price. If that’s the case, then you should know what cash you’ll need beyond what a mortgage company will offer.

We don’t want you to make a mistake. A mistake would be to dramatically overpay for a property that you wind up selling in a couple of years before prices have recovered.

If you can afford to pay something reasonable to the seller and the seller is willing to take it, and you plan to stay for a significant amount of time, you should move forward.

Just make sure you go in with your eyes wide open. To find an independent appraiser, you can contact the Appraisal Institute , the American Society of Appraisers or the federal government’s Appraisal Subcommittee.

Good luck!

Ilyce R. Glink’s latest book is “Buy, Close, Move In! Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate lawyer. If you have questions, you can call Glink’s radio show (800-972-8255) any Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Contact Glink and Tamkin through the Web site thinkglink.com.

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