How to Spark a Bidding War for Your Home

The housing market is on fire! Jonathan Smoke, chief economist, describes it as the strongest real estate market we’ve seen in a decade. Prices are at an all-time high, and still homes are flying off the proverbial shelves. But even in a fast-paced market like this, there are no guarantees for an individual home.

So how can a seller incite the kind of bidding war that pushes a home’s price well over asking? We talked to experienced real estate agents for advice on how to get buyers to turn up and bid in droves.

Price your home to move

One bidding war basic is to price low to sell high.

“Pricing the property below its true value can be scary, but it will attract a lot of attention to the property and generate multiple showings in the first few days on market,” says Morgan Franklin with United Real Estate Lexington in Kentucky. “Ideally, that will drive the multiple-offer scenario that will yield a price above listing.”

But how low should you go? Even just 5% below market value will tempt buyers with the prospect of a deal and cause a stampede to your front door. Of course, the success of this pricing strategy depends on your particular market, so talk to your agent and understand the circumstances before making a decision.

Set a deadline for offers

People don’t want to miss out, and setting a deadline can light a fire under procrastinators. But this strategy isn’t for everyone.

“You only want to do this when you know you are priced right, have a ton of showings lined up, and have heard from agents that offers will come in,” warns Liane Jamason, broker associate at Smith & Associates Real Estate, in Tampa Bay, FL.

She usually waits until she has at least two offers on the table and then adds a note in the MLS and alerts all parties she knows are showing the home. The verbiage she uses is something like, “We are in receipt of multiple offers. Seller has requested all buyers submit their highest and best offers by Friday at 5 p.m.” She says that a recent deadline received 12 offers, with the highest one at $16,000 over asking price.

Take a different view of listing photos

A picture is worth a thousand words, but listings usually showcase them in the same boring way, says Whitney Nicely, principal broker with Whitney Buys Houses in Knoxville, TN.

“Most people feature a straight-on picture of the front of the house,” she explains. But other angles could be much more eye-catching. One option is a corner picture, which allows the potential buyer to easily see two sides of the house. Or, select a picture highlighting a special feature—such as your kitchen, to allow the potential buyer to imagine cooking for the family, or your glorious backyard, to highlight outdoor living opportunities.

“A potential buyer is not always going to scroll through 36 pictures, so like my mama always told me, if you’ve got it, you’d better flaunt it,” she says.

Fuel buyers’ interest ahead of time

Jamason is a believer in advance marketing to spark interest in a property before it is listed. Use all your social media channels, and distribute a mass email to contacts, potential clients, and agents alike to spread the word that your home is coming on the market soon.

Another strategy is to put the home in the multiple listing service, but do not allow any showings until the open house that weekend, suggests Realtor® Tracey Hampson of Century 21 Troop Real Estate in Santa Clarita, CA.

“It creates a little frenzy, because everyone wants what they can’t have,” she says. “So if you show them this beautiful home and then say, ‘but you can’t see it until the open house,’ it drives people crazy and creates activity and buzz for a listing.”

Stage an over-the-top open house

To stoke a bidding war, don’t be shy about going big for the open house—which is second nature to David Parnes and James Harris of Bravo’s “Million Dollar Listing,” who recently threw a lavish open house for a Hollywood Hills home inspired by the Burning Man festival.

The extravagant party featured an open bar, caterers, dancers, DJs, costumes, tarot card readers, body and face painters, human lampshades, and confetti machines.

“The party was insane and ending up generating numerous bids that sold the house for over asking price,” Parnes said. “Building buzz around a property helps to generate offers.”

Of course, celeb glamour isn’t the only way to up your open house game. Jamason recommends a “mega open house,” with hundreds of signs around town, a band, an art showing or other unique feature, and noteworthy food.

“Really go above and beyond to have the house filled with people,” she says. “The more people who see it, the more interest you will generate.”