As the market has corrected itself, many are caught in that lurch, so definitely get with your Realtor to do the comps for you before making an offer you think may be offensive. But it is definitely a buyers market and you have a lot to choose from in the area. But all in all, sellers are trying to work with you, because you do have so many to choose from and they have their home on the market to sell it.
If you are not being represented by a Realtor, I would be happy to assist you with a market analysis of the property you are considering.
You always take a chance of offending the seller if you give a lowball offer. Especially if it absurdly low (like $150k for a $325k). But if you can back up the offer with current comps that show it is actually a realistic offer, you won't offend them, you will probably enlighten them. If their house has been on the market for more than 30 days, and assuming that where you are looking is still adjusting downward, it may well be listed too high. The only way you know is as Phil said, have your realtor run a new CMA and make your offer based on the latest comps. You will have much better chance of it being accepted.
Other than what was mentioned below, it also helps if you have a Realtor who has all the facts and is great at negotiating. They are the ones who will be able to work with the listing agent, present your case in a positive way, and help keep the deal together without offending either the listing agent or the seller. Yes, it can be done.
Many buyers listen to the media about how bad the market is... but real estate is local. Not sure where Niceville is, but I would encourage you to get a good buyers agent and do comps to see what the house is worth.
Most sellers right now are in a tight spot, BUT that does not mean they can take a ridiculously lowball offer, they have to pay the mtg off, closing costs and their agent, and hopefully have enough left over to move. How would YOU feel if you got an offer of $300 on your house you knew was worth $400 -$450?
You have to decide a fair market value, couple that with how much you like the house, neighborhood, schools, etc, and make a fair offer so that you and the seller are both happy.
It's about a win-win situation, not a rape-rape scenario. As a buyer, you have many other hurdles to go through after the price negotiation that you will need the sellers help with, so you do not want to insult them with a real lowball offer.
In the long run, you could lose more by having a home inspection issue, you'll need more negotiation on that and if you make the seller upset, how willing are they to help you with that?
Survey, appraisal, and closing. What if paperwork from your lender takes too long to get to closing agent and you need to request a one or two day extension? This happens often, so in the long run, my advice is to get a good agent, offer a fair price and try to keep everyone happy........ you are in stage ONE of the buying game, many other stages to go through still!
Then again, as Phil mentioned: would you care if you lost the deal? do you really want the house? what is most important to you? A home - or feeling like you won the price war?
Only you can answer that question, but please don't put sellers in that position if you aren't truly interested in their house. As a sellers agent for almost 30 yrs, I can't tell you how distressing this is when they think someone loves their home as much as they do, then get an offer that is insulting.
Would you want someone to do that to you? I'm not saying don't try to get a good price, just don't beat someone up over it, because the behinds you kick on your way up the ladder, may very well be the ones you have to kiss on your way back down the ladder.
Be nice, play fair, have fun, but most of all, look for a HOME, and don't make price the most important issue to wage a war upon or depress a seller who thought you might be the one they'd love to see move into their "home". It's an emotional thing.... and I'll guarantee you if you go way too low, you will lose in the long run over the other issues such as home inspection, appraisal, etc. . . . get a GREAT AGENT and follow their advice.
Sellers are very aware of the current market. I would just strongly suggest not personally knocking their home in the hopes of getting a better price... that would offend. I see people do it all the time.