They’re Baaaack!

High-stakes bidding battles they ain’t, but multioffer standoffs are cropping up in North Seattle again.

By Matthew Halverson July 20, 2010 Published in the August 2010 issue of Seattle Met

THE THREE-BEDROOM daylight rambler in Laurelhurst went on the market on a Friday in April, and by the end of the day Chris and Jessica Fosse had submitted a slightly-less-than-full-price offer. By the end of the weekend, they’d thought better of it and submitted another—for the full price. And they shortened the inspection period. And they shortened their finance approval period.

Wait, what? This is supposed to be a buyer’s market. Why, when investment firm Goldman Sachs is predicting that Seattle home values will decline north of 20 percent over the next two years, would the Fosses raise their bid and start making concessions? Because the seller’s agent gave their broker a heads up that more offers were on the way. “That’s when we thought, ‘Okay, let’s not lose this thing. Let’s offer list,’ ” Chris says.

It’s not exactly the multiple-offer mania of the mid-aughts, but mini bidding wars are breaking out in Seattle again, particularly for exceptional properties in perennially in-demand neighborhoods north of the ship canal. “Greenlake, Wallingford, Bryant, Wedgwood, places like that,” says John L. Scott managing broker Paul Harvey McLaughlin. “That’s where this stuff always starts.” (Bidders are squaring off on the Eastside, too. Teri Herrera, also of John L. Scott, listed a home in Lakemont on a Friday in June, watched slack-jawed as 42 people showed up for an open house that Sunday, and had two offers to present to the sellers by Monday.)

“You could end up with four or five offers on one house, but all of them are under asking price.”

But unlike in the prebubble days when buyers terrified of being permanently priced out of the market were willing to carpet-bomb sellers with bags of money, combatants are much more cautious in this postbubble round of bidding battles. “Back when the market was crazy, you’d never see offers under asking price,” McLaughlin says. “Now, you could end up with four or five on one house, but all of them are under asking price, with escalator clauses.” And the highest bid isn’t always the best. He says sellers are looking at not only how likely the buyers are to being able to close but how much down payment they have.

So what do you do if you find yourself facing off against a handful of other bidders for that just-right rambler in that gotta-live-there locale? You could do like the Fosses and cozy up to the neighbors. As they waited to hear back from the sellers—who had skipped off to Whidbey Island for the weekend—Chris strolled the nearby streets with their two young kids and just happened to run into some locals. A couple friendly handshakes and “How’s it goings” later, and they had a cadre of advocates who pleaded their case to the sellers. And wouldn’t you know it, the Fosses ended up beating out another full-price offer. “I don’t know how big of a factor [the goodwill tour] was, but the seller’s agent mentioned it,” Chris says. “It also crossed my mind that a dad with a couple young kids who happened to be behaving well at the time couldn’t hurt.”

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