How many rounds of bidding are buyers willing to endure in the pursuit of one house?
For David Fleming and his clients, they had been asked to come back a fourth time and better their offer of $1.745-million when one half of the frazzled couple answered his call with the words “NO MORE MONEY.”
And that was it, with those words, a night of turmoil was over in an instant.
“The emotions you go through!” says Mr. Fleming, who was cycling between dejected and elated with each successive round – only to find out each time that the battle for the century-old home wasn’t over.
By the end of the evening, Mr. Fleming learned that the reason for the astonishing four rounds is that his clients and one other couple had been virtually deadlocked all the way through. That’s a fluke he’s never encountered before.
The experience also illustrates how the bidding in the Toronto real estate market becomes extremely heated at this time of year – and possibly even more intense this February than last.
Mr. Fleming, an agent with Bosley Real Estate Ltd., says his clients had set a limit they would not surpass and they stuck to it. Still, they found the process draining. One reason they called a halt, he says, is that even if they had ultimately prevailed, the buying process would have tainted their feelings about the house.
And many prospective buyers who establish a final number in their minds end up blasting through it when their emotions take over.
“You romanticize it. You start to picture yourself in the wood-panelled library. You see Christmas mornings there. You see your kids coming down the stairs. Then in a second, it’s over.”
In 2015, it’s rare to have just one round of bidding, Mr. Fleming says. He explains that, when eight offers materialize on a property, and the listing agent reviews the offers with the sellers, and then goes back to the top four offers to ask them to “improve,” that constitutes a second round of bidding.
“There’s always a second, never a third and absolutely never a fourth,” he says of a typical Tuesday or Wednesday evening in Toronto.
Prospective buyers roundly hate the idea of adding another round, he says, but now it has become such accepted practice that many complain if there isn’t a second invitation to the table.
“You’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t,” he says of listing agents.
Mr. Fleming says prospective buyers grumble if there’s a second round because they feel they’re being pressured into increasing their bids. But if first-round contenders lose out by $5,000, they often gripe because they weren’t given the opportunity to offer more.
One agent is so notorious for pushing several rounds of bidding, he says, that a lot of agents around town won’t even enter the melee. More commonly, the sellers’ agent will call all of the other agents after the first round bids and say “we’re working with the top two.”
In his Toronto Realty Blog, Mr. Fleming recounts in detail the quirky experience of representing the couple who were interested in purchasing the century home with an asking price of $1.598-million.
On the date set for receiving offers, Mr. Fleming was encouraged to find only one other bid registered.
“I was shocked there were only two offers.”
The property was “magnificent and exceptionally unique,” he says, so he advised his clients to offer $1.7-million after his research showed that a house up the street had recently sold for $136,000 above the asking price.
In that price range, Mr. Fleming says, people don’t mess around. He assumed the other bidders had made a serious offer.
“It’s a 30-year house for somebody.”
In any deal where he expects competing offers, Mr. Fleming has his clients initial a few agreements in advance. He leaves the space for the amount blank and then – if needed – fills in the amount later while he’s consulting with his clients by phone.
Well, three hours went by and Mr. Fleming had used up three of his documents. Sitting in his car on the street, he saw the competing agent start her car and drive away.
“I thought we had it for sure,” he says.
But soon he was summoned to the house again. The competing agent was invited, too.
“I had never experienced anything like this in my entire career,” he says.
But the sellers and the listing agent had wanted to show them what had happened: Both parties had started at $1.7-million and after three hours they were tied again at $1.745-million. The sellers were not being greedy, he says; they’d all just come up against an unprecedented scenario.
Mr. Fleming called his clients one last time, which is when they tapped out.
The other agent came back with an offer of $1.757-million and her clients bought the house.
Mr. Fleming says his clients had no regrets – in fact they purchased a smaller, brand-new house for $250,000 less a week later.
“They’re pleased in the end, the way it worked out,” he says. He admires them for being able to draw the line. “They were fully willing to walk away for five grand. Most people let their emotions get the best of them.”
John Pasalis, president of Realosophy Realty Inc., says he had an unexpected spurt of competition recently for a downtown condo unit.
Mr. Pasalis had not set an offer date for the one-bedroom-plus-den at 77 Lombard St.
“We got three offers as soon as it hit the market – that deal fell through and we got five more.”
Mr. Pasalis says the unit was listed with an asking price of $397,000; when the first purchaser backed out, the sellers accepted an offer for $430,500.
“They were floored. They were over the moon.”
He says the one-bedroom-plus-den has a very functional layout with a main-floor powder room.
He didn’t use the common tactic of deliberately setting a low asking price, which can often result in a bidding war.
“It just organically happened.”
He knew the condo had lots of appeal: It’s a two-storey unit, in a boutique building, with a good view of St. James Park.
“You know what the interest is just based on the momentum – the calls you’re getting from agents.”
Mr. Pasalis says condos in such buildings sell more quickly than those in neighbourhoods with rows of high-rise towers because they’re more rare.
Mr. Fleming advises clients that, if they want a single-family house in Toronto, they’d better brace for competition. He says the scarcity of listings means that multiple offers are all but certain.
“Say you’re John and Jim and you want that Davisville semi, so do 50 other couples.”
People buying condos can often negotiate a deal because there are so many to choose from, but not always.
Competition even emerged when Mr. Fleming was helping one buyer who wanted to purchase “a really crappy bachelor condo” in the King Street West area. The asking price was $279,900; they offered $268,000. To Mr. Fleming’s astonishment, another offer came in. That buyer offered $285,000.
“They blew the lid off.”
Mr. Fleming thinks that was an isolated case in which the buyer was uneducated or had an inexperienced agent. Mr. Fleming says the three previous deals for units of that size were struck at $263,000, $269,000 and $266,000.
“Do your homework, buddy,” is his advice for the buyer who paid too much, in his opinion.
He also thinks that the current low interest rates may be spurring some buyers on.
Financial markets, meanwhile, are pricing in another rate cut from the Bank of Canada at its scheduled policy meeting next week.
In January, the central bank shocked the market when it cut its key rate by 25 basis points to 0.75 per cent.
Paul Ashworth, chief North America economist at Capital Economics, expects the Bank of Canada to wait until April to make another reduction, but he does anticipate a cut to 0.5 per cent at some point.
In a note to clients, Mr. Ashworth says he suspects that central bank officials will be alarmed by how quickly the oil price slump has translated into a collapse in Calgary’s housing market.
He notes that sales and prices in Toronto and Vancouver have been holding up well by contrast.
Last week, I wrote about 21 Berkshire Ave. in Leslieville, which sold for $595,000, or $96,000 more than the asking price of $499,000. On the strength of that sale, the same agent, Christopher Stevenson of Sutton Group-Associates Realty Inc., then listed the house up the street at No. 77 for $499,000.
Mr. Stevenson hoped that one or more of the four parties who missed out on No. 21 would be interested in the nearly identical house a few blocks away. He set an offer date seven days away but added a clause saying that the seller reserved the right to consider “pre-emptive offers” – also known as bully bids.
Sure enough, one of those bidders stepped up and, within an hour of listing, the house sold for $575,000.