Two fishermen on a dock talking about the size of a fish symbolizing real estate negotiation

In business, you don’t get what you deserve. You get what you negotiate.
Chester Karrass, renowned negotiation expert

The real estate negotiation process starts with listing a property and doesn’t end until the ink is dry on the closing paperwork. Sellers and buyers who got the best results usually worked with the agent who knew how to negotiate better than the competition.

Great negotiators adopt the right mindset, employ more effective persuasion tactics, and position deals to achieve the best results. They don’t wing it, and they aren’t simply born with the right personality. Like many things, negotiation is a skill where practice doesn’t make perfect…practice makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect. We employ best practices and research-proven methods to ensure we practice the right mindset, tactics, and positioning.

Negotiation Mindset

A negotiator’s mindset can be win-lose (one party benefits to the detriment of the other), lose-lose (both parties are worse off after the negotiation), or win-win (both parties come out ahead). Unfortunately, some people treat negotiation like a boxing match where the only way to win is for the other party to lose. In reality, real estate isn’t a sport; it’s a transaction.

A win-win is like when a husband likes the chips, and his wife enjoys the pickle, so she trades her chips for his pickle. Instead of each person focusing on how they don’t like the chips/pickle they received and being jealous of the other person, they took the time to understand what the other person wanted and found a solution that made both of them happy.

The key to finding win-win opportunities is understanding what each party wants. This is one of the reasons why having an agent represent you is so important. Having represented buyers and sellers over many transactions, we understand the multitudes of terms and conditions found in real estate contracts and how either party can perceive them as beneficial or detrimental. We know where the chips and pickles are and how many chips a certain size pickle is typically worth.

While win-win is almost always the best mindset, there are times when it’s appropriate to be a little firm and use some strong tactics to get a deal done. On the other hand, sometimes giving something away without asking for anything immediately in return can help make a deal less stressful, build goodwill, and lay the groundwork in case a favor in return is needed down the road.

Persuasion Tactics

There are many tactics people use to get what they want. A skilled negotiator knows how to recognize and counter each of them if needed. Here are some of the more aggressive and dirty ones:

  • Broken Record – Saying the same thing over and over to wear down the other side in hopes they will simply give up.
  • Low Ball/High Ball – Starting unrealistically high or low to influence the perception of value.
  • Good Guy/Bad Guy – The “bad guy” uses threats against the other party then leaves the negotiation table for the “good guy” to come and offer an easy way out of the situation.
  • Red Herring – Bringing up a minor point to distract the other side from the main issue.
  • Nibble – Adding a small item to the agreement when both parties have already committed significant effort to the negotiation and the final agreement is near.
  • Intimidation – Using tricks to get the other party to give in due to emotional rather than objective reasons. Tricks include flinching, complaining, escalation, and short deadlines.
  • Bluffing – Saying the other party’s terms can’t be met (when they can) and therefore must walk away

As negotiators with a win-win mindset, we rarely recommend these tactics.  Instead, we prefer the following tactics:

  • Walk Away – Never be so emotionally attached to a deal that a bad decision is made to be regretted later. Being willing to walk away when terms are honestly unacceptable is a powerful tactic. Since buying and selling a home is a very emotional process for most people, this is one reason why working with an objective and unattached agent helps clients immensely during negotiations.
  • Ask Questions – Understanding what is important to the other party is key to finding win-win opportunities. Questions help uncover wants and needs that the other party may not be disclosed or even been consciously aware of.
  • Reflecting – Repeating statements as questions and summarizing what the other says to confirm understanding and build trust.
  • Exploring Options – Brainstorming and discussing alternative solutions to problems to identify unforeseen opportunities
  • Silence – Taking time to listen and reflect on what the other party said. Waiting for the other party to reveal their position and begin negotiations.
  • Appreciation – Saying thank you, giving compliments, and making positive comments to foster cooperation.
Two people looking at same optical illusion and seeing a different number of sticks

Real Estate Positioning

Often, the most effective persuasion is made without saying a word. The decisions made by the seller when listing the property create a perception of value and set parameters within the minds of buyers.  For example, saying the washer and dryer is included but not mentioning the refrigerator or stove causes many buyers and agents to assume those items are not negotiable.  Here are just a few seller decision areas that frame future negotiations:

  • Selecting a listing agent
  • Preparing the home to list
    • Repairs
    • Updates
    • Cleaning/Organizing/Decluttering
    • Staging
    • Property condition for photos
  • List date
  • List price
  • Included personal property
  • Included warranty
  • Included preinspection
  • Buyer incentives
  • Condition report
  • Showing availability
  • Property condition for showings
  • Open house
  • When to review offers

Buyers also make decisions before writing offers that affect negotiations.  Here are a few items:

  • Working with buyer vs. listing agent
  • Buyer agency agreement
  • Getting preapproved first
  • Confusing wants and needs
  • Weekday showing scheduled
  • Showing feedback
  • Due diligence
  • The time it takes to make an offer

Here again, it pays to work with an agent who understands how each of these areas can help or hinder your ability to negotiate.  We have strategies to address all of these positional decisions and more.

Conclusion

Real estate negotiation isn’t magic or divine intuition, and it’s more complicated than it seems. It requires the right mindset and perfect practice of proven tactics over many transactions to become great at it. However, real estate experience alone does not make a great negotiator if that person has the wrong mindset, is undisciplined, and uses inappropriate tactics.

Choosing an agent who is an excellent negotiator is essential to get the best deal and smoothest transaction. Look for more in an agent than a silver tongue. Remember that positioning, the ability to undercover each party’s needs, and craft solutions are often more important than face-to-face persuasion.