Reactions to the prospect of negotiating run the gamut, almost like a Rorschach of people’s comfort levels when it comes to thinking, talking and asserting themselves about money matters. Some people get so excited about haggling they adopt an entirely new persona when the time comes to talk their way into saving even a few bucks here or there. Others cringe at the mere thought of trying to suss out what’s going on in the minds of those on the other side of the bargaining table in order to strike a deal, even when hundreds of thousands of dollars (and their own best interests) are at stake.
And in light of the current market, it can seem like every real estate pundit you’ve ever seen on TV, the old guys from the Fed, Suze Orman, Jim Cramer - even the President! - have each pulled a chair up to the table and chimed into your transaction, too! Trying to factor market dynamics into your personal negotiation equation only ups the complexity factor (and the fear factor to boot).
When it comes to buying or selling your home, there is a handful of negotiation need-to-knows that can go a long way toward protecting your best interests - and your cash! Here are five essential negotiation need-to-knows for savvy home buyers and sellers:
1. Work from a foundation of sound information. It’s essential that you amass an arsenal of information, and use that as the basis for your negotiation. You are in no position to negotiate, aggressively or otherwise, unless and until you are well acquainted with the real estate market immediately surrounding your home, including:
what have similar homes recently sold for;
how much above or below asking do they normally sell for;
how long do homes stay on the market, on average, compared with the home you’re buying or selling?
Not only will your agent help you understand these numbers and how they should relate to your own offer or response, your agent is also in a good position to reach out to the other agent and collect any available information about what is important to the other party: do they care more about moving quickly, getting top dollar, or certainty that the other side can close the deal? The other agent isn’t obligated to divulge any information but often will, in the interest of facilitating a deal that addresses their client’s priorities.
Finally, it’s uber-critical to know what your own priorities are. Ultimately, the bar for whether your negotiation for your home is successful is based on what the home and the terms of the contract are worth to you. Know your own bottom and top line for price, and what your own priorities are, before the negotiation begins.
2. Approach the negotiation as a problem-solving challenge. Today’s negotiations are really more like problem solving scenarios, when you take into account all the parties whose needs must be met for the transaction to move forward. Traditionally, negotiations were a two-way power struggle between the buyer and seller, based primarily on their wants and their respective bargaining leverage. But on today’s market, the bank - or banks on both sides -- often have their own guidelines and needs that impact the terms of the deal, whether it be the seller’s lender insisting on a certain price in a short sale, or the buyer’s lender and appraiser refusing to lend anything above a certain price.
Many a buyer has thought they were scoring a great deal by scoring a bargain basement price on a short sale, only to have the seller’s bank condition approval of the deal on a massive increase in the sale price. And the opposite is also true: a significant number of the deals that fall apart on today’s market do so because the home fails to appraise for the purchase price the buyer has agreed to pay. Ultimately, this is even the case when it comes to the buyer’s and seller’s needs: if the buyer can’t qualify for a high enough mortgage, or the seller can’t pay their mortgage balance off, at the price in the other party’s mind, there will be no deal, and the negotiation is inherently unsuccessful.
In this context, it’s more important than ever to approach your negotiation as an exercise in problem solving, with the aim of meeting the needs of as many parties involved as possible. If you get some of your wants met, too, you’re golden!
3. Manage your own mindset. You probably shouldn’t even try to buy a home that you don’t strongly like, or even love. It often makes sense to hone in on a specific offer price (within the range what is reasonable for a home) based on how much you want it, or how much you’d hate to lose it - especially in a multiple offer situation, where you may only have one chance to make an offer.
With that said, be aware that when it comes to negotiating, she who is the least emotionally attached to a particular outcome usually has the greater bargaining power. The more attached you are to a particular home or a particular price point or set of terms for your home, the more likely you are to panic, freak out, throw money at the situation or cave in on important points unnecessarily when you get even the faintest sense that your desires may be at risk.
When it comes to managing your own mindset and stamina through the course of a negotiation (uncertainty is tiring!), knowing what is and what isn’t within each party’s - control is key. Your agent can help you stay clear on this, which will help you avoid the emotional exhaustion that results from trying to negotiate things that are not really negotiable (e.g., the bank’s bottom line, cosmetic repairs on most foreclosures, etc.). On the flip side, knowing the full range of items that can be negotiated - which extends beyond price into areas like deposit amount, length of escrow, seller repairs, and whether the property is to be taken in as-is condition - empowers you to maximize how compelling your offer is to the other side, given the resources at your disposal.
4. Minimize time pressures. Over the years, I have seen many a buyer and seller make brow-raisingly questionable offers and counteroffers based solely on the fact that they have to move by a certain deadline. Because shelter is a basic human need, the prospect of having to move out, relocating to a new job or moving to a new town without having housing in place can cause even the most nimble among us to feel ungrounded.
Problem is, in the context of buying a home, moving deadlines can cost you thousands and thousands of dollars - and can even cause you to make needless compromises in terms of the actual property itself: compromises you might later (deeply) regret. If you are approaching a deadline for moving out or relocating, you’d do better to find a rental housing situation that will work for awhile or will work as a Plan B than to try to hurry your home’s purchase or sale to meet the deadline.
5. Act and react quickly - not impulsively. When you find ‘your’ place, make an offer. When you get an offer or counteroffer), respond to it. In real estate, time is always of the essence, and prolonged hesitation often results in lost opportunities. There’s nothing wrong with sleeping on a decision overnight, especially if the ‘right’ move is unclear. But you never know when another buyer or another property might show up on the scene and change the whole bargaining dynamic, costing you more money or wooing away your home’s buyer.
This is why it’s so important to be clear on the market data, your own budget and your own top and bottom lines from the start, so that you are positioned to act quickly, strategically and intelligently when the circumstances require it.
Buyers, sellers and agents: what negotiation insights have you gleaned from your own real estate experiences?