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Bidding tips for homes that are off limits to visitors

 LOWEST PRICES IN 5 YEARS : Anaheim Hills homes on Marblehead Way are seen here from the top of Weir Canyon Road. Home-selling stats from August show that the median price for a home in Orange County was $440,000 — down 31.5% in a year and the cheapest since November 2003. ///ADDITIONAL INFO: - Photo by BRUCE CHAMBERS, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER - photo taken 9/15/08 - ANAHEIM HILLS - Final home-selling stats from DataQuick for August shows that home pricing remains weak. The median selling price for the full month was $440,000 — down 31.5% in a year and the cheapest since November 2003. It’s been quite a fall from the top as the countywide median is down $205,000 — or 32% — from the peak of $645,000 hit in June 2007. This deep discounting is making a difference. O.C.’s August homebuying ran 18.7% above a year ago — the second-straight year-to-year sales gain after 33 months of slumping homebuying.

When the showing instructions for a home for sale in the California Regional Multiple Listing Service says “drive by only – do not disturb occupants,” I always know I’m in for a wild ride if my buyers are truly interested in pursuing the property.

Just in case you ever come across a drive-by-only situation, here are few tips to help make the journey a little less bumpy.

• Drive by only doesn’t necessarily mean it’s destroyed inside, the home of a hoarder, or meth house.

It often means the seller doesn’t want to tip the tenants off to the fact that he’s selling. Or, the tenants’ decorating taste and housekeeping habits aren’t conducive to getting a buyer excited about the house.

In other cases, there’s been a family health issue and the living room has been turned into a home hospital with a patient who shouldn’t be disturbed.

Where there are photos of the interior and it is still designated as drive by only, one can only wonder if the photos are recent and show the true current condition of the interior.

• Regardless of the reason for the drive-by-only restriction, the offer process can be a bit unnerving.

First of all, you don’t know how to compare it to the recent comps. You’re putting blind faith into the listing agent’s representation of the condition of the home. If the list price is so far below market value for a home in reasonable condition, expect there to be multiple offers.

If the seller counters you back at a higher price, how do you now if it’s too high or not? You get to decide if you’re going to play the bidding war game, potentially going over your budget to get a house you’ve never been inside. Is this insane?

• Make sure your offer stipulates that it is “subject to interior inspection.”

This is your safety net. If you emerge victorious and your offer (or counter offer) is accepted, you then have the right to inspect the inside.

Once you get to go inside, have a look around, and see what you’ve gotten yourself into, you can then choose to cancel the contract, re-negotiate the purchase price, or move ahead to the next steps in the purchase process – most important of those steps for you being the home inspection and the appraisal.

Contingencies for conducting your investigations and for the appraisal are built into the California Association of Realtors Residential Purchase Agreement (RPA) already – so you have those to fall back on from the get go.

Just remember to add in the interior inspection so all parties agree that you have to be happy with what you find once you can take a look.

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