1 December 2023

How to make an offer on a house

Once you've secured your mortgage and found your dream home, you need to be quick in making an offer if you wish to gain an advantage over other interested parties. Here's how you do that.

Ready to search for your own home? Be warned. Once you’ve entered the mindset of the first-time buyer, you’ll find it hard to walk past a real estate agent window ever again without checking the listings. You’ll realise too how many other people are also looking.

While you should never rush a purchase or skip the essential steps, you can get the edge over the competition by preparing your paperwork in advance, and knowing what’s next in the homebuying process.

A good solicitor can work wonders

The serious business doesn’t begin, however, until you have your mortgage and solicitor in place. Of course, you’re perfectly free to start house-hunting speculatively, but Ireland’s housing market is extremely competitive.

Available housing stock hit record lows in early 2022, but sales (and average prices) continued to rise. That can mean that you're not just trying to make the best offer - you’re aiming to close the deal before someone else gets the keys to your dream home.

Entering the bidding game

Once you're more aware of what your realistic budget is and which solicitor is going to handle your purchase, you can start searching for properties in earnest. It may take weeks or even months, but if you’ve found the property that ticks all the boxes, here’s how to make an offer.

Set a budget you can stick to

Your mortgage lender will already have indicated how much they will be prepared to lend based on your income, deposit and current debt level. From that, you can get an idea of the budget range you’re looking for, and may decide to narrow your focus to a particular:

  • Type of property: house vs apartment;
  • Size of property: number of bedrooms;
  • Area: your budget is going to go a lot further in rural areas compared to the city centre in Dublin, Cork or Galway.

Regardless of your experience, knowledge is power. If you can gather as much data as possible (using free online tools) about average property prices in the given area, you’ll have a handy reference for spotting a good deal. Once you’ve found a potential home, you should also check the Residential Property Price Register to see how much it has been sold for in the past (available from 2010 onwards).

Know the market

Popular homebuying sites such as MyHome and Daft allow you to search the thousands of properties for sale in any given city or county. You can cross-reference the typical price per square footage, the number of bedrooms or the postcode.

Don’t forget to factor in not only the house price but also the conveyancing fees, stamp duty, insurance and other expenses when determining your budget.

Find a property at an asking price that fits

Treat everything in the early stages as negotiable. As a general rule, the asking price and closing price are never the same in the property market. Given the competitiveness of the market, the seller and their solicitor may list at a relatively low price, in the knowledge that they can count on a bidding war between interested buyers. If it’s out of your budget range before you’ve even made an offer, it won’t get any nearer once the haggling starts.

Check the bidding action

To get an idea of the competition, don't be shy to ask your solicitor regularly about how many bids are in for a property on your wish list. If there's a flurry of activity and bids are increasing in large increments, that might be your cue to step back.

If interest is cooling, on the other hand, and the current best bid hasn't moved in a while, you might want to make your move.

Make a realistic offer to the seller

Depending on where the property is listed, you could be making your informal offer in person to the seller, or by phone or email to their estate agent. You don't have to offer the full asking price and you should follow up in writing.

Don't forget that you're selling yourself to the seller too! If you've done your homework on the market, are up to speed on your paperwork, and can sprinkle some friendly charm and regular communication into the mix, sellers will be sold on you as a buyer.

Your solicitor will advise on what to offer and how many other bids are already in place on the property. The first offer you make probably won’t be accepted, and you may have to go back and forth two or three times before the seller is convinced.

Even then, there’s always the possibility of someone gazumping your deal at the last minute, so don’t treat any decision as set in stone (or get too emotionally attached) until contracts are signed and the title deeds have been transferred.

Don’t rule yourself out just because your budget seems low

The good news is that as a first-time buyer you are an attractive proposition for a seller who is in a hurry (in real estate terms) to sell.

Indeed, around a quarter of house sales in Ireland are to first-time buyers. Since you are not in a chain, there are fewer obstacles from a seller’s perspective, so there may be ways to work around the asking price.

If you can get your mortgage pack ready and show that you’re on standby with a surveyor, the seller will be even more inclined to take your offer seriously and proceed.

Finalise the agreement of sale

If the offer is accepted, your solicitor will provide you with a “subject to survey” contract, at which point you’ll pay your booking deposit. The legal process for buying the property cannot begin until this booking deposit has been paid, but it is refundable until final contracts are signed.

Paying the deposit takes off some of the pressure because the listing will be removed while an offer is under consideration, so the trail for your house-hunting rivals goes cold.

With the booking deposit resolved, it’s the turn of your solicitor to put in the legal legwork and for you to cross your fingers. Your solicitor will send the Requisition of Title to the seller’s solicitor to clarify and confirm the complete details about the property, including:

  • What fixtures and fittings are attached;
  • What utilities are connected;
  • If there are any issues surrounding current occupants or rights of access.

Caveat emptor: Why it pays to beware as a buyer

Unfortunately, the seller is under no legal obligation to be fully transparent about the condition of the property. While they cannot misrepresent the title ownership, they do not have to reveal, for example, if the house requires any major repairs.

That’s why you should take your time to conduct a survey and get as detailed a report as your budget permits.

Your mortgage lender will also share a keen interest in the results and may even decide to refuse a loan if they believe that the building presents too big a risk. Typical objections include:

  • Major structural defects (roof, walls, etc.);
  • Local environmental factors that leave the house uninsurable;
  • Planning disputes that could impact the future sale of the property.

Once you and your solicitor are satisfied with the agreed sale price and survey results, your solicitor will draft a Deed of Conveyance for approval by the seller’s solicitor.

This is the next step toward formalising the deal and transferring the title. It does not mean that the deal is secured by any means, but at least you can reassure yourself that the seller is dealing exclusively with you instead of playing you off against other offers.

You'll find even more resources, tips and advice for first-time buyers on our website. Just click here to take the next step towards your new home.