Q: My wife and I are getting frustrated by sellers who seem like they don’t really want to sell their homes — even in this market!

This scenario has happened several times: We see a place we like listed at $499,000. We write an offer at $445,000. The seller doesn’t even respond. Then, six weeks later, the place is still on the market and the price is reduced to $449,000 — if they had issued us a counteroffer at $449,000, we’d have bought it back then. We’re still interested, but we’re not paying the full price, so we offer $425,000 — and they still don’t even respond. We’ve done this on several houses, over the last four months, and ALL of those houses are still on the market! We think these sellers are just crazy.

I wanted to find out about short sales or bank-owned properties, because those sellers might be more motivated, but our Realtor told us she doesn’t know anything about them. Are we doing something wrong?

A: Well, friend, yes — you are. You are operating in a bubble, without consideration for what your local market standard pricing and negotiating practices might be. When you say, "We’re not paying the full price," you are expressing that you are entrenched in your own values and mindset about what you will and won’t do, rather than trying to get inside the mind of those who make the decisions that impact whether you will or won’t be successful at getting a home and writing an offer that speaks to their concerns. Is that allowed? Sure! Is it likely to be successful? Nope — as you have already seen.

I often run into buyers who, like you, have firm rules of thumb about what price they will and won’t pay, or what terms they will and won’t agree to. After they lose a few homes, I remind them that the sense of one-upmanship, pride, or illusory hard-nosed bargaining that they are cultivating with those "rules" is pretty meaningless if they don’t ever get any of the homes they are trying for! Keep in mind that any "discount" you were after a few months ago has probably been eaten up by the increases in interest rates in that same time period.

The seller’s position might be ego-based; some sellers simply get a price stuck in their heads and refuse to budge, because they think their home is just that great. It might owe more to local standard practices; in some areas, sellers simply expect to get the asking price with no haggling, so for you to continually come in under asking — no matter how low they drop the price — might be perceived as insulting.

While the fact that the sellers are reducing their prices to virtually what you’d offered in the first case might seem baffling, they might be trying to hit the pricing sweet spot that generates multiple offers and bidding over the list price. Still other sellers might have a target they have to hit to pay off their mortgage and move on — and be unwilling to sell if they can’t get at least their bottom line.

And it is completely possible that you’ve just had bad luck with sellers — ask your Realtor whether or not her other buyer clients are having this experience. …CONTINUED

Your Realtor can and should be advising you about where your offer strategy is going wrong — if she is and you’re simply not taking her advice, shame on you (well, not really shame, but you get the gist). If she’s not, then that’s a different issue. Lots of the problems you’re having reflect areas in which your Realtor should be sharing her expertise and information with you.

For example, your Realtor should be interviewing the listing agents before you write the offer to see what, other than pricing, you might be able to do to appeal to the seller. Some sellers with strong positions of ego around the price of their home will back off after they read a lovely letter from the would-be buyers, with a picture of Ma, Pa, the kids and the dog, expressing why they love the home and all the work Ms. Seller did to it, despite being unable to pay more than the offer price for financial reasons. Others will take a lower-than-desired price with an offer to take the property "as is," warts and all (after the appropriate inspections for the buyer’s information, of course). But you never know until you ask — via your agent, that is!

By the same token, assuming you’re relating events the way they really happened, your Realtor owes you a meatier explanation of why she can’t show you any short sale or foreclosed properties. Are there just very few such listings in your area or that meet your search criteria? Does she prefer not to work with them, because past clients had bad experiences? Is she showing you properties listed only by her office?

If you are a bargain hunter, as you appear to be, it might have been a mistake to work with an agent who has no access or inclination to work on bargain-priced listing types. There certainly are legitimate reasons why an agent might not want or be able to show you short sales or REOs (bank-owned properties), but the sort of agent you need would (and will) fully explain her rationale to you.

I’d advise you to rethink your offer strategy and push a reset button on communications with your Realtor. Ask yourself whether your goal is to get a house or an illusory bargain, then make future offers in line with your true aim — and only after your Realtor has done some digging into the seller’s thought process, expectations and motivation level.

I’m not advising you to pay a ridiculous sum for a property, just to take the seller’s position into account when you formulate your offer, or be prepared to be making offers for some time into the future. Ask your Realtor to explain why she can’t offer you short sale and bank-owned properties. Ask her to explain how she thinks you need to alter your offer strategy. If you don’t feel that she’s being forthcoming or that her answers make sense (don’t just look to her to tell you what you want to hear, either), consider changing Realtors — ask around for referrals from your family and friends.

Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Ask her a real estate question online or visit her Web site, www.rethinkrealestate.com.


What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor. To contact the writer, click the byline at the top of the story.

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