As a buyer, you can usually counter offer the seller of a home when you disagree with sale terms. By agreeing to make provisions that are favorable to you, the seller gets you to commit to buying the house. The counteroffer stage occurs before the seller agrees to sell you the home, and you can still counteroffer after obtaining a seller's "final offer." The seller can also refuse to negotiate further and move on if your counter isn't compelling enough, however.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
A buyer can counter a seller's offer, even after the seller presents a "final" offer. But if you've already signed a contract, the offer – and the acceptance of the offer – are legally binding, leaving you little to no wiggle room to make a new offer.
Counteroffer Negotiation Basics
A counteroffer allows you to continue negotiations while declining a former offer. The objective of a counteroffer is to iron out the details before a final offer is accepted. Once the terms of the final agreement are reached, and both sides have signed the contract – including all counteroffers – in acceptance, each party must abide by the terms. To try to change the contract after a final offer has been accepted is difficult and risky, unless you have a compelling reason for the change of heart.
Seller's Final Offer
A seller may deliver her final offer after several rounds of counteroffering or simply after seeing an initial offer. The seller's motivation to sell and her negotiating ability usually influence when she will answer with her final offer. A motivated seller typically engages a buyer in negotiations for as long as it takes to sell the home under the most favorable terms, whereas a seller who is committed to getting a specific price or terms has less tolerance for counteroffering.
Playing Hardball with "Final" Counteroffer
A seller's "best and final counter offer" may be presented to a buyer in those terms, but it may not actually be "best" or "final." It may be simply the seller's attempt to force a potential buyer's hand to accept a higher price. As a buyer, if you have one last counteroffer in you, you can always counter after the seller's "final" offer.
Just go into this strategy with your eyes open, knowing that although the seller may not have given you a "true" final offer, it truly may have been the final offer, and you could be playing a losing game of chicken.
Playing the Waiting Game
Depending on market conditions – whether buyers have a hard time finding homes or sellers have difficulty finding willing buyers – you might successfully counteroffer after a seller's final offer. This requires a bit of bluffing on both sides and the patience to stomach the period of uncertainty. A seller who sends you a final offer may mull her decision and after a few days decide to move forward with you if she hasn't received competitive offers in the interim. A counteroffer during this period can re-open negotiations, especially if your counteroffer improves terms for the seller, such as her bottom line.
Compelling Reasons to Make Counteroffer
You might have compelling reasons to counteroffer a seller's final offer. For example, perhaps you research the property and discover that the home is worth much more than you thought because of a recent high-end comparable sale or amenity you were previously unaware of. Or the property might be worth significantly less than you thought due to structural or title issues that came up during an inspection or public-records search. Counteroffering with documentation to support your new bid may help you successfully negotiate a deal after a seller's supposed "final offer."
K.C. Hernandez has covered real estate topics since 2009. She is a licensed real estate salesperson in San Diego since 2004. Her articles have appeared in community newspapers but her work is mostly online. Hernandez has a Bachelor of Arts in English from UCLA and works as the real estate expert for Demand Media Studios.