A prospective home buyer recently stopped by a Sunday open house to take a second look at a listing that caught his fancy. His real estate agent had advised him to keep a poker face as he walked through the house, and to ask no questions of the listing agent. Otherwise, he might tip her off that he was interested.
This is a popular negotiation strategy: Don’t show the other party that you might be interested in striking a deal. The presumed consequence if you do show enthusiasm is that the other party (the seller in this example) will gain an advantage over you.
There is usually something that backfires. Many home sellers have strong emotional attachments to their homes. With these sellers, the sale price is important, but it’s not all that matters.
For example, a couple with two small children had been looking for a new home in Oakland, Calif., for months. They fell in love with an exceptional property and decided they wanted to buy it. They were the first buyers to make an offer, but other offers followed shortly after. The first buyers’ offer wasn’t for the highest price.
The sellers were impressed by a letter from the first buyers in which they promised to take care of the property. The sellers had bought the house as a rundown fixer-upper and had renovated it extensively. It was important to them that the property ended up in the right hands.
When the offer from the first buyers was presented, their agent told the listing agent that the buyers would welcome a counteroffer if their price wasn’t right. If the sellers hadn’t known that the buyers were willing to pay more, they might have gone with the highest offer. However, knowing how committed the first buyers were, the sellers decided to offer the house to them at a higher price. The offer was accepted.
Expressing interest lets sellers know you’re serious. Your enthusiasm can put you in good stead with the sellers. This doesn’t mean that you have to reveal the highest price you’re willing to pay, or the terms on which you’ll buy the property.
HOUSE HUNTING TIP: Being the first buyer of several to commit can give you an edge. Many buyers retreat when they hear that someone else might be interested in the property. Some don’t want to get caught up in a bidding war.
Others back off because they don’t want anyone else to know what’s on their mind. They feel that by tipping their hat, they will in some way diminish their negotiating posture. This isn’t necessarily so.
In another example, prospective buyers decided to write an offer on a Piedmont, Calif., listing days before the seller was prepared to hear offers. There were three other interested buyers who vacillated between writing offers and waiting to see if the seller accepted the first offer. At the last minute, the other three buyers decided to wait and see what happened with the one offer that was written. Had the committed buyers not revealed their position early on, other buyers might have stepped forward with offers and they would have found themselves in competition.
A straightforward negotiation strategy is most effective if you can also convince the seller that you have done your homework. An earnest buyer who is preapproved for the financing he needs, and who has read all the pertinent disclosures on the property is a buyer who will be looked on favorably by the seller.
THE CLOSING: Telling a seller that you like his house doesn’t mean that you have to overpay for it.
Dian Hymer is author of “House Hunting, The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers,” and “Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer’s Guide,” Chronicle Books.