Welcome to Centers and Squares

As a Cambridge real estate agent, the city squares of Cambridge, Somerville and Medford and the town centers of Arlington, Watertown and Belmont, Massachusetts are my home turf. And as a lifelong New Englander who’s lived within twenty miles of Boston most of my life, I can introduce you to other nearby towns as we search for your new home. If you’re planning to sell your home in Cambridge, MA or nearby you’ll find plenty of info about the home selling process here too. Questions? Send me an email or call me at 617-504-1737.

Fun And Often Free Things To Do In Cambridge

There’s always something cooking in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  College lectures, museum events, movies, tours and more.  Best yet – most events are inexpensive and many are free – it doesn’t get any better than that!  Here’s the latest roundup of things to do in Cambridge.

Author Readings in Cambridge

 
Science fiction author, David Weber, reading from his new science fiction adventure novel, Storm From The Shadows. At the Harvard Coop, Harvard Square. Tuesday, March 3 at 7 pm.  Free admission.
 
Marion Kilson and Florence Ladd, authors of Is That Your Child: Mothers Talk About Raising Biracial Children. At Porter Square Books, Porter Square Mall, Cambridge, MA. Thursday, March 5 at 7 pm. Free admission.
 
Frank Shirley, author of New Rooms for Old Houses (this is a wonderful book for old house enthusiasts!) will share ideas for expanding the space of your old house without sacrificing its vintage charm.  At Porter Square Books, Porter Square Mall, Cambridge. Tuesday, March 10 at 7 pm. Free admission. 
 

Lectures In Cambridge

Survival of the Swiftest, Smartest, or Fattest? Human Evolution 150 Years After Darwin
Lecture by Daniel Lieberman at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, Geological Lecture Hall, 24 Oxford Street, Cambridge, MA. Thursday, March 5, 6:00 pm.  Free admission.
  
When Doctors Are Writers: Elissa Ely (Ely writes amazing essays for the Boston Globe) and Tess Gerritsen talk about how writing affects their medical practice and vice versa. Cambridge Forum, First Parish, 3 Church Street, Harvard Square, Cambridge. Wednesday, March 11 at 7:30 pm.  Free admission.
 

Films In Cambridge

 
Movie Night at the Schelesinger Library: Dogfight (1991) starring Lili Taylor and River Phoenix.  A discussion with Andrea Walsh, of MIT, will follow the film. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College Room, 10 Garden Street, Radcliffe Yard. Wednesday, March 4, 6 pm. Free admission.
Harvard Film Archive: The Notorious Landlady (1962) starring Kim Novak and Jack Lemmon and Operation Mad Ball (1957) starring Jack Lemmon and Ernie Kovacks. Harvard Film Archive at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, 24 Quincy Street, Cambridge.  Monday, March 2 at 7 pm.  Admission: $8.00, seniors $6.00
 
Friday Night Anime, MIT. 77 Mass Ave, Rm. 6-120, Cambridge.  Friday, March 6 at 7 pm. Free admission.
  

Other Fun Things To Do In Cambridge

 
Cambridge Community Television Orientation.  Learn how you can get involved – produce your own tv show, learn video production skills.  CCTV Studios, 675 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA.  Monday, March 2 at 6:30 pm. Free admission. 
  
Walking Tour: Discover Mount Auburn.  This 1.5-mile walking tour will focus on the stories of history, monuments, and the lives of those buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery, a National Historic Landmark.  580 Mount Auburn Street, Cambridge, MA. Saturday, March 7, 2:00 pm.  Admission: $10
 
 
 Check back often for more fun things to do in Cambridge.  And if you would like your event posted here please contact me.
 

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Condos, Condos Everywhere – Arlington Condominiums

Arlington, MA Condominium Buildings and Styles

New residents of Arlington, MA are drawn to the town for its restaurants and shops, the parks, the Minuteman Bike Path, the proximity to Boston and more. Not quite the suburbs – not quite the city – just right for many. And if you’re in the market for a condo, Arlington has a wide variety of choices.  Here’s an idea of some of the condominiums you’ll find in Arlington, Massachusetts.

Classic Brick Buildings

The Irvington Condos in Arlington

The Irvington Condominiums

The Irvington on Pleasant Street and the condos at 230 Massachusetts Avenue are two examples of classic early 1900s buildings that were converted to condominiums.  The units are charming with high ceilings, hardwood floors, period detail and even, at the Irvington, fireplaces.  A one-bedroom unit was recently listed at 230 Mass Ave for $229,900.  The most recent sale at the Irvington was five-room, two-bedroom condo that sold for $400,900 in 2006.

Arlington also has two old brick school buildings that have been converted to condominiums – the Cutter School on School Street and the Locke School on Park Avenue.  The Cutter School was converted to condos in the 1980s and many of the units have interesting layouts. A two-bedroom at the Cutter School closed for $380,000 in Fall 2008. Many of the units at the Locke School have super high ceilings and those amazing, large schoolhouse windows. A one-bedroom condo with renovated kitchen sold for $315,000 in 2008.

Arlington Condo Buildings from the 1960s to the 1980s

Arlington has a number of good-sized condominium complexes in buildings that date from the 1960s to the 1990s.  Many of the buildings have elevators, most have parking. Some can seem a bit dated but are still on the modern end of the spectrum of Massachusetts housing.  In Massachusetts “modern” can often mean the 1970s when compared to much of the housing stock.  Some of the choices include:

Colonial Village was built as apartments in the early 1960s and is close to Arlington’s swimming hole -the Arlington Reservoir or “Res”.  There are 144 one and two-bedroom condos spread out in a dozen buildings (12 x 12 – a gross!).  A two-bedroom with the original kitchen and bath sold quickly – it closed 20 days after it was listed – for $158,000 in 2009. Looks like that was a bargain – other units on the second or third floor have sold for more.  The complex has an outdoor pool and parking.

The Brentwood in Arlington Center was built in the 1970s and has more than 100 units.  A 4th floor one-bedroom condo at the Brentwood is currently listed for $199,000.  The lobby has a retro feel and there’s an elevator in the building.

The Millbrook Condominiums were built in 1971 and are on Mass Ave not far from the Blue Ribbon Diner. The association consists of two buildings – one in front with traditional layouts and balconies and another set back from the street with loft-style units. These condos have a two-story living room and stairs to a balcony bedroom with adjacent bath. I’ll never forget my first visit to the Millbrook Condominiums.  It was spring and though the sliders were all closed the sound of the rushing water from the brook was mesmerizing.  It reminded me of one of my favorite stream-side camping sites from childhood and I was sold – someday I’ll sell all my stuff and retire to a one-bedroom at the Millbrook.  A brook-side unit sold for $235,000 in 2008.

Spy Pond Condos

Spy Pond Condos

The Spy Pond Condominiums on Hamilton Road were built in the 1980s.  The condo buildings are flanked by the bike path on one side and Spy Pond on the other. Pond-side units have beautiful views of the lake and picnic tables for residents sit by the shore. The most recent sale was a one-bedroom on the bike-path side that sold for $207,000 in 2008.  The last pond-side penthouse two-bedroom to come on the market sold for $535,000 in 2005.

Watermill Place was built in 1988 and has over 100 units.   These condos have central air conditioning, in-unit laundry, garage parking for many units, and a fitness room with exercise equipment.  Two Watermill Place condominiums are currently on the market – a one-bedroom for $259,000 and a two-bedroom for $319,900.

Condominiums in Multi-Family Buildings

Many of Arlington’s condominiums have been created by converting multi-families into condos.  Condo buyers will find varying levels of quality in these units – some will be close to rental quality, some have undergone modest renovations, and others have been gutted and renovated with quality finishes.  These buildings were usually constructed between the mid to late 1800s through the 1930s but renovations can transform them into units that will meet the standards of buyers who prefer more modern condos styles and amenities.   Condos in two and three unit wood frame buildings typically have between two and four bedrooms, with the larger units usually found on the second and third floors of two-families.   The diversity of quality and size is reflected in the sales prices which ranged in 2008 from $193,500 to $725,000.

New Construction – Arlington Adds to the Condo Inventory

The real estate boom of the last few years meant that a number of new condo developments were built in Arlington.  New condo complexes include:

Russell Place is a forty-unit development built in 2002 in Arlington Center near the bike path.  There’s a variety of styles among the units – townhouses, flats and lofts. A two-bedroom, 2.5 bath townhouse sold in 2008 for $530,000.

Avenue 264, a 27-unit condo building, was built on Massachusetts Avenue near the Capitol Theatre in 2005. The building has an elevator and the condos have central a/c, hardwood floors, in-unit washer/dryer, and garage parking.  A two-bedroom, two-bath condo sold in 2008 for $415,000.

A few blocks further down Mass Ave at the corner of Mill Street a development of 19 free standing townhouse condos, Heritage Square, was built in 2004. A three-bedroom townhouse on Mass Ave sold for $610,000 in 2008 and earlier in the year a larger unit on Mill Street sold for $675,000.

There’s something for every condo buyer in Arlington, including many more buildings than you see here.  If you would like more information about Arlington condominiums remember – I’m just a phone call or email away!

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What’s A Two-Thirds Family House? Deciphering Cambridge and Somerville Real Estate Terminology

Cambridge Triple-DeckerHome buyers new to the real estate search in Cambridge or Somerville and nearby towns are often perplexed by one of the terms they see in the MLS (the Multiple Listing Service).  “What the heck is a 2/3 family?” they ask. 

The MLS uses the “2/3 family” as a descriptor in the Style of Condominium field.  No question about it – it looks odd.

The term refers to condominiums in multi-unit buildings with two or three units.  Cambridge and Somerville have loads of multi-family buildings.  These wood-framed houses are typically either two-family houses or three-family houses (also called three-deckers or triple-deckers).  When these multi-families are converted to condos the “2/3 family” designation is used to denote the style of condominium building. 

The term does not refer to two-thirds of a building but to a two-family or three-family building.

The condos in a triple-decker are typically the same size and layout since a three-decker customarily consists of three, identical stacked units.

A two-unit association often contains two very different units.  While it’s true that some two-families consist of identical units – a sort of two-decker style – more often the two-family has a smaller first floor unit and a larger unit upstairs, with additional rooms on the third floor.

Are you searching for a condo?  Search here – by map or by search criteria – and see all condos available for sale in the MLS.  And if you have questions or would like to set up an appointment to see any condos that catch your eye remember – I’m only a phone call or email away!

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Cambridge Real Estate – New Listings Tour – Cambridge and Somerville

Every Wednesday the Cambridge Coldwell Banker Real Estate agents tour the new listings coming on the market.  Today was a great tour.  There were 15 properties on the tour and among them some real gems.  Here are my favorites:

Avon Hill Mansard Townhouse

avon-hill-condoWe started the tour at a very special property – a townhouse condominium in a largely unspoiled Victorian mansard duplex on an Avon Hill side street.  Beautiful period detail, high ceilings, and wonderful views of the surrounding Avon Hill Victorians and backyards from every window.  Most will opt to update this three-bedroom townhouse but the price of $799,000 in this desirable neighborhood struck everyone as a very good buy.

Cambridge Single Family Homes

One of the highlights of our tour was a single family home on Avon Hill.  Essentially new after a complete transformation in 2006, this house is exquisite. New houses or gut renovations are not usually my personal favorites but this house is exceptional.  As I walked through it, accompanied by a chorus of ooohs and aahs from my fellow real estate agents, the Not So Big House books by Sarah Susanka came to mind. Not that the house is small – with four bedrooms, four levels of living space, and over 3500 square feet it’s generously sized – but the fine finishes and exquisite detail remind me of Susanka’s emphasis on quality.  From the beamed ceiling in the living room, the unusually wide staircase, to the perfection of the kitchen and baths – this house is a delight.  Priced at $2,325,000 and one of the nicest Cambridge single family houses I’ve seen in a long time.

Most days the Avon Hill house would be hard to beat but we weren’t done yet.  I’m an old house enthusiast and a huge fan of unspoiled antique houses.  As we walked into the next house on tour, a 13 room, 6 bedroom Victorian, my colleague exclaimed “Now this  is what it’s all about.”  This absolutely lovely quintessential Cambridge home sits on a quarter acre lot on a side street near Brattle Street and the Charles River in West Cambridge.  A grand old home, it has wonderful period detail, elegant formal rooms and sweet and cheery bedrooms. Gracious and inviting, this is the house you think of when you visualize an old Cambridge manse.  Well loved for decades, the next owners will be fortunate to call this house home.

Somerville Condominiums

Somerville CondoWe saw a variety of condominiums in Somerville, Watertown, Cambridge and Arlington on tour. The standout for me was a spacious six-room, two-bedroom condo on Winter Hill in Somerville.  Somerville  has several streets with really beautiful Victorians and Adams Street in Winter Hill is one of them.  This condo, one of five condominiums spread out in the house and adjacent carriage house, is the crown jewel of the association at 60 Adams.  Walk across the wide front porch through the main door of the house – now the private entry to the condo – into an enormous foyer.  Inside, the Victorian golden oak detail is jaw dropping – a built-in bench next to the fireplace in the living room, thickly framed stained glass panels in the formal dining room, columns, pocket doors, and a massive built-in china cabinet with leaded glass doors.  The kitchen is scrumptious – a bit updated, a bit vintage – very usable and completely charming.  60 Adams Street, Somerville is a dazzler and is coming on the market for $424,900. 

Arlington and Watertown Condominiums

We also saw two condos today that are great options for first-time buyers.  One is a newly renovated condo in a brick four-unit condo building in Watertown.  Filled with light, open and bright, this two-bedroom condo with study has a gorgeous kitchen and new bath.  The developer did some very nice detail work and this condo seems exceptionally well priced at $314,000.  If you’re looking for a Cambridge condominium you might want to include this Watertown condo in your search since it’s just off Mount Auburn Street near the Cambridge line.

Another excellent first-time buyer option was a three-room one-bedroom condo in a classic brick building in Arlington near the Capitol Theatre.  Charm and character, hardwood floors and parking for $229,900 and you can hop on the 77 bus to Harvard Square.

I tour new listings all week long. Check back often for the latest and greatest.  See a property you like?  Need more information?  I’m just a phone call or email away!

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Belmont Events – Belmont World Film – Arabian Nights – New England Premiere

At the Movies in Belmont MABelmont World Films is a nonprofit organization that showcases international films, documentaries, animation, and shorts from countries around the world.  Movies are shown at the Studio Cinema, a single-screen theater at 376 Trapelo Road, Belmont.  There are six movies in the spring film series, shown on Sundays at 7:30 pm. 

The first film in the series is Arabian Nights a film from Luxembourg about a young train conductor who becomes obsessed with a beautiful Algerian woman.  Arabian Nights was Luxembourg’s entry for the 2008 Academy Awards and this is the film’s New England premiere. 

When: Sunday, March 1, 2009 at 7:30 pm

Where: Studio Cinema, 376 Trapelo Road, Belmont

How Much: $8, $7 for seniors and students

For more information call Belmont World Films at 617-484-3980.

Check back often for more things to do in Belmont.

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How Much Rent Can I Charge For My Cambridge Apartment?

For Cambridge rental property owners, whenever tenants turn over the question comes up – How much can I get for my Cambridge rental? What rent should I charge for a new lease?

Apartment RentalFactors Impacting Rents For Your Cambridge Apartment

  • Size and number of bedrooms
  • Condition
  • Neighborhood desirability
  • Distance from the nearest Red Line or Green Line subway stop
  • Level of renovations – kitchens and baths are most important
  • Amenities such as parking, laundry access, hardwood floors

The rent you received from the previous tenants is a good starting point for determining the right rent to charge.  But the market may have changed since you last sought new tenants. Consulting a rental agent – or several – is often the best way to determine market rent for your apartment.  

You also might want to check websites such as  Zilpy or Rentometer for average rents in your Cambridge neighborhood. These sites are great places for landlords and tenants to check local rents.

Harvard Sets Rents for 2009-2010

Harvard recently surveyed and studied Cambridge rents to set rates for next year’s leases.  These rates give some idea of potential rents in Cambridge but keep in mind that Harvard’s rental rates include all utilities and the units are often more updated than many Cambridge apartments.  Harvard’s market rents effective July 1, 2009:

  • Studios: $1,285 to $1,630
  • One-bedrooms: $1,475 to $2,050
  • Two-bedrooms: $$1,855 to $2,663
  • Three-bedrooms: $2,280 to $3,158
  • Four-bedrooms: $2,700 to $3,200

The Value of Good Tenants

In the end, after gathering as much information as you can, you will be the judge when deciding what rent you should charge.   As a landlord you will want to ask yourself what peace of mind is worth to you. Ultimately getting a good tenant is as important – even more important – than getting the highest possible rent. Most landlords will opt for fewer problems rather than a few more dollars.

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Belmont Recycling Restrictions

Recycling In BelmontIt seems that many towns and cities are tightening recycling restrictions in response to recycling facilities cracking down on contaminated loads.  Belmont, Massachusetts has posted the new regulations on the Town of Belmont website.   

Recycling regulations for Belmont:

Comingled Containers

“Comingling” means that metal, plastic and glass containers can be mixed in your recycling bin. Containers must be clean and rinsed.

Acceptable Containers

  • Plastic containers marked 1-7
  • Tin cans
  • Aluminum cans
  • Glass bottles and jars – clear or colored
  • Aluminum foil, trays and pie plates

Examples Of Unnacceptable Materials

  • Plastic chairs
  • Children’s toys and play equipment
  • Laundry baskets
  • Swimming pools
  • Window glass
  • Mirrors
  • Pyrex
  • Ceramics
  • Etc.

Paper and Corrugated Cardboard

Acceptable Paper

Paper should be placed in brown bags next to your recycling bin

  • Office paper including colored paper, computer paper, fax paper and post-its
  • File folders
  • Catalogues
  • Envelopes with or without windows
  • Newspapers
  • Magazines
  • Telephone books
  • Paperboard
  • Junk mail
  • Chipboard (ex: cereal boxes, shoe boxes)
  • Kraft paper bags

Rules For Corrugated Cardboard

  • Must be free of moisture barrier and wax content
  • Cardboard must be flattened and cut into pieces no larger than 2 ft. by 2 ft.
  • Cardboard can be included with other paper recyclables in brown paper bags or tied with string in bundles

Materials Not Accepted For Recycling

  • Hardcover books
  • Contaminated paper
  • Carbon paper
  • Mylar
  • Wax paper
  • Waxed corrugated cardboard
  • Tyvek envelopes
  • Photograph paper
  • Paper towels
  • Hanging folders
  • Pizza boxes
  • Foam packaging
  • Plastic bags
  • Garbage and rubbish

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Whaddya Mean There Are Other Offers? I Thought This Was A Buyers’ Market!

Given the unrelenting doom and gloom in the media, it’s no wonder you feel like you’ve got the upper hand when you’re looking for a new home.  Visions of lowball offers, grateful sellers, and bargain basement prices dance in your head.

So it can come as a surprise when you find yourself in a multiple bid situation. Who knew there wold be competition? Real estate is local and even today you may find yourself  competing with other buyers for a house or condominium.  There have been plenty of multiple bid sales in my market – Cambridge condominiums have received multiple bids, it’s not uncommon for Arlington single families to have multiple bidders, and a single family in Medford recently sold for well over the asking price after receiving 10 offers. 

Have A Game PlanHere’s a game plan to take you through the crazy, stress-producing process of buying a home when you’ve got competition.

What’s a savvy buyer to do when there are multiple offers?

For starters, don’t be discouraged and don’t be afraid.  It is possible to “win” and get the house of your dreams and it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to break the bank to do so. I’ve bought three of the four properties I’ve owned in multiple bid situations – including my first house. And I’ve been happy with every house – no regrets!

Work With A Buyers’ Agent

You need to be working with a buyer’s agent who will represent your interests in the transaction.  Sometimes buyers think that going directly to the seller’s agent will give them a leg up.  But the seller’s agent’s responsibility is to the seller, not to you as a buyer.  And it’s quite likely that the seller will still owe the same commission to the listing office even though only one agent is involved in the transaction.  And most important – in a multiple bid situation the listing agent’s responsibility is to get the best offer for the seller – regardless of whether you’ve submitted an offer directly to him or her. The sellers’ goal is to get more money in their pockets – not the agent’s.

You need somebody on your side.  A buyers’ agent who’s familiar with the local real estate market will be able to: 

  • Pull comparable sales info to enable you to decide on a reasonable but competitive offer price
  • Advise you about real estate activity in the neighborhood for similar houses
  • Strategize about how to put together a compelling offer that has a strong chance of prevailing in a bidding war  

How Does the Seller Decide Which Offer To Accept?

 When the seller looks at several offers there are only so many points to compare.  You want to shine on all points:

Price – Go over the comparable sales information with your agent. Don’t get stuck on the asking price – the house may be purposely priced low to generate excitement – and that strategy worked! Carefully go over the stats and decide on a price that makes sense and seems competitive.  Your agent will have experience in the market and be able to offer advice but ultimately you’re deciding on an offer price that is comfortable for you and reflects just how much you want the house.  Don’t assume that multiple bids means the offers will go sky high – sometimes all the offers can be under the asking price. Other times it does seem the sky is the limit – we’ve had at least two houses in Cambridge sell for $1,000,000 over the asking price.  The comparable sales info and the amount of activity for the listing should give you some sense of how the offers might go.

Dates – Your agent will find out what dates work best for the seller – do your best to meet them.  Maybe you’ll have to move in with your parents for a few weeks or move more quickly than you had hoped but remember – you’ll be moving into the house you love.  The temporary inconvenience will be quickly forgotten.

Sit Down With Your Real Estate AgentContingencies – The typical offer contingencies are financing, inspection, and in the case of condominiums, satisfactory review of the condominium documents.  You should have a letter of preapproval from your lender at the ready.  Be aware that some buyers may very well drop any and all of their contingencies.  You have to decide if you are comfortable eliminating any contingencies.  Perhaps you have cash on hand from a previous sale or your parents will back you up and you’re open to the idea of dropping a financing contingency.  Or you had the chance to go through the property with an inspector prior to submitting your offer.  Everyone’s situation will be different and everyone’s risk tolerance varies as well. Decide what if any contingencies you’re comfortable eliminating. And if you are including contingencies discuss with your agent how to minimize the impact – by tightening dates, increasing the dollar value of repairs you’re willing to take on, etc.

Deposits – In Massachusetts your offer is typically accompanied by a $1000 initial deposit check.  You and your agent may want to discuss increasing the deposit.  This comes at no cost to you since the deposit will go towards your down payment. From the sellers’ perspective, however, it shows evidence of the seriousness of your offer. 

Respect The Emotions Involved In Selling A Home 

Don’t forget that selling a home is often an emotional transaction.  Honor that.  The sellers want to feel good about passing on their home to its new caretakers.

Now is not the time for pointed questions or asking for repairs – though that time may come if you’ve allowed for an inspection.  Remember – you’re being compared with other buyers. Don’t stand out as a pain in the neck – it’s not to your advantage if you want the house.

Keep extraneous issues out of the offer.  You’re buying a house – not the furniture.  Focus on the goal and talk about extras later outside of the home purchase agreement.

And one no-cost but often very effective tool is a letter to the sellers.  Write about who you are, why you love the house, and how you’ll take good care of it. Mention any special things that stood out to you.  If you can tell the sellers took good care of the house say so.  If you like their decorating mention that.  Sellers will often remember and remark about the letter weeks after receiving it. 

Ultimately the seller wants the best price and the fewest hassles.  And if they can feel good about the new caretakers of their family home all the better. 

What Happens Next?

There aren’t any rules for how the seller chooses an offer.  You may get an opportunity to better your offer and resubmit at an agreed upon time.  Or the seller may choose one of the offers on the spot.  It’s typically to your advantage to submit as strong an offer as possible in the first round.  But it also might not a bad idea to have a small buffer so that you can increase your offer by a few thousand if given the chance.  But remember – you might not get that chance. Plan accordingly and put your best foot forward.

Go For It!

New Home KeysSome buyers are tempted to walk away from a multiple offer situation without even making a bid. But if you’ve found the house you really want – give it your best shot. A multiple bid situation is not insurmountable. And you can’t assume that you’ll have to write a sky high offer to get your offer accepted.  Every situation is different and some multiple bids don’t even generate an over-asking price.   When I sold my first house, purchased in a bidding war during a down market, one of the first people at the open house was one of the other bidders from five years before.  I never regretted buying that house and for him it was the one that got away.  So – work with your agent, craft your bid, and know that you’ve done your best.  And maybe, just maybe – you’ll be the happy new owners.  Good luck!

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