The low-ball offer has been non-existent for so long, that many Buyers don't even consider it anymore. It's coming back, Buyers, so readjust your thinking and consider properties that are a nudge over your price range, but have been on the market a while.
So, how do you do a low-ball offer right?
1. Acting predatory is going to hurt you - the Seller will be a lot more flexible if they don't feel like you're out to rob them blind. Don't enrage the Seller by offering them something off the wall like 10% of the asking price. Give 'em something to work with.
2. Make it worth their while - offer to accept responsibility for some repairs or the U&O, or a quick closing, etc. Give them something to console themselves with. ("Well, we took a real hit on the price, but it was worth it to get out from underneath that payment in 30 days.")
3. Be compassionate. Some of these people are strung out financially because of the current real estate market. STRUNG OUT. Some older people are taking a hit of tens of thousands of dollars because they waited 2 years too long to sell their house. Be thankful that you're not in their situation, and remember that you someday may be, and act accordingly.
Now, saying that - lowball your offer. You may be able to give these people what they need, which is a sale of their house. It's a very simple matter, $X is what you are willing to spend, and you hope that it works for the Seller. Try to figure out their motivation and structure the offer so that it gives them what they really need:
A vacant home where the Sellers have already moved? Give them an offer with a quick close and a streamlined inspection period.
A treasured family home? Show them that they'll be selling to someone worthy of the home who will be a good caretaker (and mentioning that you LOVE the house will go far).
An estate sale? Give them some flexibility on the settlement date, or offer to accept the home with some furniture or belongings in it.
Want some more info? Shoot me an email and I'll be happy to answer any questions you have...