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It’s been a long couple of years for homebuyers and their agents.
The pandemic-fueled tornado of low inventory, tons of buyers flocking the market amidst record-low interest rates and would-be sellers holding onto their homes for fear of being left out in the cold with no place to go, made for a brutal homebuying experience in many places.
“Last year, it was pretty much come in every house guns blazing, do whatever you could do to acquire that house,” Max Stokes of Compass in Northern New Jersey told Inman. “There was no negotiation over the last couple of years.”
But the tides are turning.
Volatile — and comparatively high — interest rates coupled with an uncertain economy are starting to shift the market’s balance. Sellers don’t have the hold on the market that they once did. And it’s time for buyers to start taking advantage of the shift.
As a balanced market comes into view on the horizon, here’s how buyers’ agents are changing their negotiation tactics to help their clients achieve some wins that were once impossible in the frenzied market of the last two or so years.
Ask the developer to cover closing costs on new properties
On new development properties in Manhattan, where Leslie Singer of Brown Harris Stevens works, the taxes folded into closing costs can be a lot to swallow. In the past few years, sponsors (another term for developers) have typically put the onus of mansion and transfer taxes on the buyer of the property.
On New York City properties priced below $500,000, transfer taxes are 1 percent and on pricier properties, that tax increases to 1.425 percent. Mansion taxes kick in on properties priced at $1 million or higher and range from 1 percent to 3.9 percent, depending on the exact price.
But in this market, Singer said developers are a lot more willing to negotiate.
“In these types of markets, sponsors may be more flexible on the backend, such as assisting with closing costs,” she told Inman.
Leverage different listings against each other
With inventory staying on the market a bit longer these days, buyers have the time to comfortably compare different active listings — and potentially leverage them against each other if a seller is really being a stickler when it comes to negotiating, Stokes said.
With properties that he has represented recently, Stokes said homebuyers have pointed out to him other similar properties in the same market, and why they might be a better offer than his own listing, lighting a bit of a fire under the seller.
“[They’re] pointing out the differences in the comparables that are on the market and trying to leverage three [listings] against each other,” Stokes said.
Marry the house, date the rate
With elevated mortgage rates, a lot of buyers are hesitant to get out into the market now. But Gretchen Rosenberg of Kentwood Real Estate in Denver said that she and her agents are encouraging homebuyers to get off the fence and commit to a home if they love it. Mortgage rates will be in flux for a while, so buyers should get the house they want now and keep refinancing for a better rate in mind for the future. In other words, “marry the house and date the rate,” Rosenberg said.
“We are out there talking rates and just reminding buyers again, hopefully this is a longtime purchase. It’s not a year, it’s not like you’re a renter, you’re going to be in it for a while, and so someday down the road — we don’t know when, we can’t promise when rates will come back down — you’re likely going to be able to refinance. You also might be able to buy down the rate now, depending on your position.”
Get more recent data to back up the best offer
In the past, Rosenberg said she might gather comps from the last six months of sales to inform her buyer’s offer on a property. But with the market changing rapidly over the last few months, in large part as a result of volatile mortgage rates, Rosenberg said data from six months ago is already out of date. To help buyers craft the best offer that’s most likely to succeed, her agents are digging into data from a neighborhood’s most recent sales.
“They’re diving more into the data,” she explained. “They’re saying, well, what have the last couple of sales been? Not the last six months of sales, which is what we would normally do to comp a house, but the last couple of sales in this neighborhood, and how many price reductions have there been in this neighborhood? What are the days on market now? What’s the percent original list versus final sale price in the last 30 days?”
Don’t waive your rights
Stokes is working with homebuyers now who also transacted a home earlier in the pandemic, and he said he had to make it clear to them that waiving things like a home inspection or appraisal were concessions they wouldn’t even consider this time around — even if he didn’t necessarily encourage it the first time.
“You don’t need to do that anymore,” Stokes said. “The market’s normalizing, if not turning, so keep your rights in the contract … there’s no reason to do it just to do it.”
“People were voluntarily waiving [inspections] and just doing escalation clauses,” Dawn Maddux of Engel & Völkers Western Frontier in Missoula said. “In the 11 years I’ve been in real estate, I’ve not ever seen that before … Now, we’re kind of getting back to writing normal offers, maybe at or a little below asking price based on what the market will bear and based on what comps show, where before, it was just a frenzy.”
Along the same lines, Maddux elaborated that homebuyers shouldn’t feel rushed to make decisions before they’ve done all their due diligence on a property, and buyers’ agents should actively encourage this to avoid regret later.
“They have time to do their research there — there’s not a frenzied competition,” Maddux said. “It’s honestly better for the seller because, what we’re seeing happen, is there’s a lot of lawsuits pending where buyers jumped into properties, they end up with buyer’s remorse, they [find] out something [about] the house that the seller didn’t disclose, probably because they didn’t know about it, and they didn’t get an inspection so they wouldn’t have had a way to know.”
In this market, when a deal isn’t as sweet as a homebuyer or the buyer’s agent feels it could be, under the right circumstances, there’s no shame in even stepping away from the negotiations for a week or two altogether.
That opportunity arose recently for Stokes and one of his buyers, who was interested in a fixer-upper that he thought was overpriced given how much money would need to go into renovating the property.
“I said, ‘Well, there’s not going to be many buyers out there that are going to be willing to take this on their shoulders right now,” and [the sellers] disagreed,” Stokes told Inman. “And I just told my buyer, ‘Just trust me — you’re one of the only buyers out here that would do this right now. Take a deep breath, sit back, and let’s just watch this for a minute.'”
The seller reached back out a week later, wondering if they were still interested, and Stokes said they were considering some other options. Another week after that, the seller reached back out again and said they would drop the price to match the buyer’s offer.