Does a seller have to respond to my offer?

Is a seller required to respond to your offer to buy their house? Is it illegal or unethical for them to simply not respond? Many buyers ask these questions when they make an offer that gets no response from the seller.

When a seller receives an offer, they can accept the offer as written, reject the offer, submit a counteroffer or do nothing. There is nothing illegal or unethical if they do not respond. In fact, as the buyer, you have the same exact ability if you receive a counteroffer. It is a free market, and buyers and sellers are free to exercise their own discretion and volition during negotiations. Not all offers necessarily deserve or require a response.House sold sign

Most offers specify an expiration date. If the seller were to respond to your offer after the expiration date, even if they accept it as is, it would then become a counteroffer that would need your countersignature to re-activate the contract and make it valid once again.

There are a variety of reasons that a seller may choose not to respond to your offer. The most common one is that your offer is simply too far away from what a seller may consider reasonable. While my general advice to sellers is to always try a round or two of negotiation to see where it goes, there are times when such an effort seems pointless. I once received an offer that was 35% under list price on an $800k home, with a measly $500 in earnest money. There were no indications that the buyer was serious in their negotiation.

Your own actions as a buyer outside of the offer could also cause a seller not to respond. I’ve heard tales of rude home tours where buyers rifle through personal belongings or engage in other rude behaviors causing this lack of seller response. I’ve even heard of cases where buyers act obnoxiously with neighbors prior to their offer. A particular seller may not want their family home passing to someone that they don’t feel comfortable with. They may also be concerned that if a particular buyer is so difficult at the beginning of the process, that they won’t be viable to actually make it through the month-long closing process.

In some cases, it is simply that more time must pass before the seller is psychologically ready to negotiate at your price point. If the market comparables clearly show that a home is overpriced and you make a reasonable offer that gets no response, you will need to wait and retry your offer another day. Some sellers will change their mind in weeks, others in months. Every seller and situation is different, but if you like the house, playing the waiting game can pay off once the seller has come to the realization that they are not going to get what they want.

  • Lou Gatti

    This is a great article. There are many officious jerks, both in and outside the real estate business. They think they are the best qualified buyers and how can someone not give them a counter offer. Fortunately, I have dealt with some of these before, so I am familiar with their tactics. I have seen a lot of ridiculous contracts, and I don’t waste my time with a counter. Once a buyer has shown that he is way off base, I will not want to have anything else to do with them. Even if they were to offer full price in the future, I know they are trouble.
    I had one guy threaten my agent and broker, because he thought he should have a counter, and be eligible for a second trust that I said I may offer. In my last case, I wouldn’t give him a dime.
    Thanks for this article.

  • Great post and yes, this is a question that comes up a lot!