At the start of each negotiation designation course that I teach, I ask the learners, “What is your biggest challenge right now?” and the answer from the majority of people in the past two weeks has been, “How do I help my buyer know what price to offer in multiples?”

Story continues below

Let’s dig into this a little bit deeper.

There is an array of numbers to consider. The asking price carries little importance except how many buyers will be attracted to the property. There is market value, which is difficult to estimate in a strong sellers’ market. There is the price that your buyer can pay based on their financial situation, and there is the price that they would like to pay.

Since they can’t pay more than they can afford, their offering price will fall somewhere between the last two numbers. Several factors will influence their decision: How badly do they want the property? Do they need a home, and do they believe that values will continue to rise? Only the buyer can answer these questions; the agent helps them build the framework.

It’s your job to help your buyer establish a reserve price, which is defined as the price at which they are indifferent between a deal and no deal.

If they want the property, and there are several other offers, your buyer will likely choose to offer their reserve price. Holding anything back creates a risk of losing the property and isn’t prudent unless the buyer is okay with that risk.

When I purchased my acreage in the Gulf Islands recently, my internal dialogue kept asking me, what is the price at which I don’t want the property? While it didn’t make it crystal clear, it helped me see it more analytically. When my offer was successful, and I owned the property, I felt great about my decision because I knew the number I offered was well thought out.

The other factors to consider are the terms and conditions in the offer. Your buyer should make them as advantageous to the seller as possible to increase the chances of their reserve price being accepted. Also, you want to build some connection with the listing agent so that your offer is taken more seriously than the other offers.

In many markets across Canada, the winning offers are unconditional, and if your buyer’s offer isn’t unconditional, you aren’t in the game. I would suggest not even making the offer because the number of bids registered helps drive the final selling price higher. If conditional offers are still common in your market, an unconditional offer will give your buyer the best chance to buy the property. Yes, it’s risky, and only the buyer can decide if they can take that risk. More on this in my next column.

Help your buyer establish their reserve price based on the best information you can gather. Make the terms and conditions as beneficial to the seller as you can. Build a connection with the listing agent and present your offer by zoom or by email.


  1. I always found it useful to ask the buyer: “Would you be upset if someone else got this house?” Or would you say it’s just meant to be and decide to keep looking. If yes, they would be upset, the only logical next step is to simply say: “then you must make your very best offer and hope it’s enough.” You likely won’t be afforded the opportunity to cross negotiate.

    You can’t ever suggest the buyer to offer outside their comfort zone or let them gamble to bid higher and outside what they are prequalified to spend.

    They would not just put themselves in danger but endanger the seller also and maybe a long list of others involved in a string of transactions.

    But most important of all: have all those discussions well in advance of ever even going out to view properties. Address all likely possibilities. By investing your own time wisely, making time that you often think you don’t have will free up time in reality. In order to help clients as best as possible, first you have to train them in the values you bring to the table. As the industry gets more complicated daily, using more paper than ever previously it is vital to your success to be an organized planner, and be fully aware of what is going on in the minds of your clients.

    Offer time is no time to be evaluating how serious the buyer intention is in a multiple offer situation. Do buyer agents ever role play with their clients? Of course if your buyer was previously your seller they would have some understanding of the process. You might have to remind them?

    My head always said: “I can’t help you if you won’t let me.” The pre-work in any client relationship must be engaged in, and that’s the secret sauce of successful agents who make things look so easy and uncomplicated. If agents get all the pre-work advice preparations out of the way, helping advise clients who find themselves in multiple offer situations will be a much easier process for all concerned. Just my thoughts. As the old adage: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

    Carolyne L 🍁

  2. Thank you all for your thought out and professional opinions. These are difficult times for buyers and for buyer’s agents and I hope you all find some value in the opinions both from my article and from the comments here.

  3. Contrary to what Mr. David Zalepa has stated I believe that this article by Ms. Cumming is an excellent piece on how to coach your buyer clients on how to determine their sweet spot in terms of how much to offer for a given property.

  4. As a former legal assistant and an independent mortgage consultant, I am horrified by how many realtors are willing to put their clients at risk by encouraging offers without conditions. It is absolutely irresponsible and should not be condoned. I recognize that if a few do it, then there is pressure for other to follow suit, but this is very poor practice for what amounts to one of the largest purchases in a persons lifetime. Law suits and buyers regret are avoidable with appropriate conditions to protect all parties.

  5. Boomers taking the opportunity of homeownership away from young adults wanting to start their own lives. I feel so sorry for them. To suggest an unconditional offer being written when financing is required goes against most of what we have been taught over the many years of CPE.

  6. When bringing an offer in a multiple offer situation you as agent need to understand and be able to clearly explain the difference between asking price and market value to your client. I have seen many properties over the years sell for way over asking and yet still only be sold at below or right at market value. My opinion as a listing agent, usually 50% (and sometimes more) of the offers in a multiple offer situation are what I would call throw-away offers, meaning they are below market value and won’t be considered. And sometimes conditional offers are acceptable if presented well with a strong agent that clearly has the situation in hand.

  7. Excellent Article Suze. FYI recently in Calgary there have been a few conditional offers won in competing situations. Some markets are not as hot as others but its changing quick.

  8. What Suze alluded to lightly is affordability. My many years’ experience tells me – affordability is a sum of several factors a) Available down payment (rom all sources except borrowing from institutional lenders), b) Applicable TDS, or GDS, and c) Stability of income required to service all debts. Obviously, I am taking in to account that most buyers would need mortgage. That opens up another dimension – what appraised value of the property the undertakers of the lenders will take in to account? When their built-in software says ‘reject’, can the underwriter manually over-ride, and, by how much? If the offered price is grossly inflated (due to bidding), the buyers will have to come up with substantial additional funds to qualify for a mortgage. This is where the Education, Experience and Ethics (I call it ‘The Triple E’) of the Salesperson comes in to effect with full blast.

  9. Thanks Suze, for this typically wise and succinct piece. I took the CNE course when you visited Halifax a few years ago and still benefit from what I learned.

    David Zalepa: may I suggest adding a little water to your wine!

  10. Wow. David isn’t a broker that I would recommend to any client. Very rude. The rational that is given as a guideline by Suze is very good and exactly what I use in a multiple offer market. As for conditional offers; they work well in a buyer’s market but much less or not at all in a seller’s market, especially when multiple offers are the norm. But it really depends on the situation and the property.
    Thanks so much.

  11. Suze.

    I personally practice key points of your article; ask a client what they feel their maximum price would be to be happy about the win, and indifferent if it is not successful, as well as providing my personal opinion of the power of an offer free of conditions.

    Your article is well presented and also helps with those Buyer clients seeking a property in a heated seller market, who say “we don’t want to participate in a bidding war”. Using your same points can help such a client bring calm and piece of mind to the process and make such a Buyer feel more in control of their purchase.

  12. Hi Suze, while I understand the idea behind no offers with conditions I have to disagree. Yes, they have close to zero chances to get the property when there are 10 other offers but the reverse is to tell all the first time home buyers they shouldn’t be even looking in a sellers market with offer presentation if they don’t have 20% down (to avoid any problems with CHMC) and another at least 5% reserve in case the appraisal is under their offer. If they write an offer without financing condition they take on a big risk.
    We have to be realistic but in the same time is the client’s decision about the offer.

  13. I wasn’t going to reply but then saw the comment from David. He obviously would never sell one house in Toronto with that attitude. Not to mention how mean spirited he is.
    Ps. Good, well written article.

  14. I also believe that it was is wrong to suggest not to even bring an conditional offer because of so many competing offers. To suggest this would mean that only cash buyers can buy real estate. This is not only wrong but it is against all the principles that are taught in buyer representation. Are you suggesting that non cash buyers just forget about home ownership because there is evidence that this trend of competing offers will continue throughout the year in many markets across Canada. I also believe that there would be less offers if realtors learned to price houses correctly. If there are 15 offers way over the list price then perhaps the home was not listed properly to begin with. Just my opinion but i have 30 years of real estate sales experience to base it on.

  15. Hi,

    Interesting opinion, and it is only that of course. Dissecting the rational behind parts of this opinion would be a great debate. Others whom are brave will weigh in and I look forward to that exercise.

  16. Hello Suze: Your article sets out good rational points to consider before making an offer during these crazy times and can be easily understood by even the first-time buyer. I am going to keep it to refer to. Many thanks.

  17. Hi David,

    That’s a pretty nasty comment. You don’t have to agree but I would have expected a more professional rebuttal from someone on the RAHB board. I notice that you have’t taken any of my negotiation courses. Perhaps you are missing something.

  18. Another total waste of space. This article is ridiculous. And to suggest not to present a conditional offer is ludicrous. Maybe you should just retire quietly in the Gulf Islands.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here