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Do I have to be all cash to be competitive?

Many buyers are intimidated at the prospect of competing against an all-cash buyer for a hot property -- but does cash always win?

First, to address a common misconception: most buyers, and especially those vying for co-ops below $3M, are relying on financing to some extent, which means a majority of active buyers are submitting offers contingent on obtaining that financing. So as long as you have enough funds to cover the minimum down payment amount (typically 20%) along with required closing costs/reserves, your offer is still competitive -- and even more so if you’re able to put down 25% of the purchase price. That said, the mighty all-cash buyer still has a huge advantage, right? Well, not necessarily. First off, the seller gets the same proceeds whether they are paid by the buyer or his lender. More importantly, all-cash buyers tend to grossly overestimate the value of their cash and their draw as an all-cash buyer, leading them to make noncompetitive offers.

But an all-cash offer does have some value. Certainly it will tip the scales with all else being equal. And in some situations it might justify a modest discount on the sale price. The value to a seller of an all-cash offer is based on the following two advantages:

(1) Faster Closing. In a typical deal, eliminating the mortgage application and underwriting process can cut anywhere from 10-25 days off the duration of the transaction. Buyers who are financing typically have between 30-45 days from contract signing to apply for their loan and obtain a commitment letter from the bank. Upon receipt, they usually have another 3-5 business days to submit their board package or building application. Cash buyers typically have 10-15 business days from contract signing to submit their building or board application, so the time savings to a seller is really only about 3 weeks.

(2) Eliminating risk. To understand why and how cash reduces risk, it’s important to consider the three things on which financing hinges -- the buyer, the building, and the unit. By the time a seller accepts a buyer’s offer, they will feel pretty comfortable with the first two of these factors, so the only question mark is whether the unit will appraise at the contract price. While low appraisals are not common, even a $1 shortfall could jeopardize a financing-contingent deal where the buyer is putting down the standard 20% of the purchase price. However, the consequences of a low appraisal diminish as down payment amounts increase over 20% of the purchase price. In these cases, an all-cash buyer is effectively no better in terms of risk than a well-qualified buyer who can (and agrees to if necessary) put down 25% or more. It is important for all-cash buyers to be realistic about the value their all-cash status holds. Most often, the discount that it can entice is not worth tying up their capital or foregoing other benefits of cheap financing options.

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