A buyer signed a contract to purchase your house. Depending on what it contains, you may be thrilled, relieved, or upset by the deal. The question is: Do you take it?

Homeowners must consider an offer in the context of market conditions to determine whether to accept, decline, or negotiate.

"You should look at every offer the same way, whether you have one offer or multiple offers," says Catalina Sandoval, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage. "Anyone can write anything in a contract, so it's up to your listing agent to check out whether the buyer is truly qualified."

Sellers automatically look first at the purchase price, but agents say that other factors should have equal weight. Financing is an important consideration.

“A lender letter should be attached to every offer, so your agent can contact that lender and ask about the buyer’s qualifications,” Sandoval says.

Listing agents will want to know whether the loan is fully documented, whether the lender foresees any credit problems, and whether the buyer’s cash is in the bank, she says. She recommends requesting a detailed financial statement from the buyer that includes income, debt, and assets, including the cash needed for the purchase.

“I compare the preapproval letter and the offer to make sure the buyers are fully approved to borrow as much as they need,” says Rob Wittman, an associate broker with Dutko Ragen Homes & Investments.

Offers often include contingencies on the buyer’s financing, home inspection, and appraisal.

“The more contingencies there are, the more opportunities there are for the buyers to walk away,” Sandoval says.

Sellers should scrutinize contingencies carefully:

  • Financing. The financing contingency should be 21 days or less, Wittman says. “If someone makes a full-price offer, but they need 60 days to tie up their financing, they’re asking you to take your home off the market while they figure out how to buy it,” says Kara Sheehan, a real estate agent with Washington Fine Properties.
  • Home inspection. The home inspection contingency should be seven to 10 days at most, Sheehan says. A seller can choose to sell their house “as is” and agree to an inspection that allows buyers to walk away if they don’t like the report but doesn’t allow negotiations for repairs, she says. Buyers who bid up the price on a house sometimes try to use the inspection as a way to lower it back down by having the seller subtract the cost of repairs from the price.
  • Appraisal. The appraisal contingency should be 21 days or less, Wittman says. Sheehan recommends making sure the buyer has enough cash to bring extra money to closing if the appraisal comes in low. Otherwise, the seller would have to reduce the price or split the difference with the buyer.
  • Settlement date. Typically, closing is set for 30 to 45 days after the contract is accepted, Sandoval says. If a buyer asks for a longer term, it could be that they are not financially ready. A longer settlement gives the buyer more time to back out, which could force sellers to put their home back on the market. If the seller is moving into a new house, the settlement date is crucial. A seller doesn’t want to be between houses with furnishings in storage or paying two mortgages at once.

A substantial deposit shows buyers’ desire for your home, says Sheehan, while a small deposit makes it easier for them to walk away. It also may signal that they have very little cash and that they’re stretching to buy the house, Wittman says.

For multiple offers, compare prices and terms to determine which one makes the most sense for your situation.

Your agent will negotiate with the buyer’s agent, but you decide what to haggle over. “It’s always best to negotiate on the least amount of details,” Wittman says.

If the price is lower than you want, have your agent go back to the buyer's agent with a comparative market analysis and specifics about your home to show why it's priced as it is, Sandoval says.

"Sometimes sellers think they need a perfect offer and won't accept one if it's slightly under the asking price," Sandoval says.

Sandoval had sellers who refused an offer just under list price. Their house stayed on the market until they were forced to accept less money.

“It’s possible to end up with nothing if a seller gets too greedy,” Sheehan says. “If you have a willing and able buyer who can afford to buy your house and is within reason of your listing price, you should try to make it work. If you don’t, you could end up with a lower offer later.”