While things in real estate appear to be picking up, and some cities are again commanding multiple offers on appealing properties, in many areas we are still experiencing a "buyer's market." When determining what price to offer on a potential home, buyers need to exercise caution when offering to purchase at below asking price. Bargaining is indeed an art, and the last thing you want to do is to insult the sellers.
An unreasonably low offer risks angering the sellers to the point where they won't even make a counter-offer. In general, an offer more than 10% below asking price is not customary and faces possible rejection, but there are ways to proceed with respect when you feel that a lower offer is substantiated. While agents have an obligation to present all valid offers, if the price you start with is significantly low, even the agent may consider it "frivolous," thereby reducing your chances of being taken seriously.
Sit down with your agent and make a list of reasons to share with the seller about why your offer is less than asking price; or, strongly consider negotiating other terms of the purchase, such as closing costs or repairs. A reduction on those aspects can still yield great savings. Always ask your agent to run comparables on similar properties, so you can get a true feeling for what other homes are selling for, making sure that you compare "apples to apples" as much as possible.
Whenever you are in the presence of the sellers, either during showings or inspections, kindly exhibit proper etiquette and respect. Consult with your Realtor before any meeting to make sure you're both on the same page.
Ultimately, the best way to make your offer with confidence is to realize that there are many attractive homes for sale in your price range. If a seller rejects your offer outright, avail yourself of the other suitable properties on the well-prepared list of possibilities provided by your Realtor. There's a home out there for everyone - it's just a matter of finding the perfect match!