Getting what you want in home sale negotiations

-- When it comes to selling a house, everything from the price to whether the refrigerator stays or goes is negotiable. But negotiating the terms should never be an "I win, you lose" situation. Rather, it should be "I win, you win."

"The best negotiations end with all parties feeling like they won," says Scott Friedman, a Linwood, N.J., real estate coach. "Both parties need to feel they came to an amicable agreement and want to move forward."

To get to that point often involves give and take on both sides. Here are some tips:

- Let your agent do your bidding. That's what you've hired the agent for, so let him or her handle the bargaining.

Hopefully, he or she has had some schooling in the art. Unfortunately, to hear sales trainers such as Friedman and Rich Levin of Rochester, N.Y., tell it, most do not. So it might be wise to hire an agent who has either taken some courses or has lots of experience in getting buyers and sellers to close without incident.

Buyers and sellers may have met when the buyer visited the property. But once the offer is submitted, they should never see each other again if possible.

Never negotiate directly, says Levin, who had a 15-year career in real estate sales before turning to coaching. By remaining apart and unseen, there's no chance your words or body language can be misinterpreted. You want the other side to focus on the deal, not you.

The only time you may want to break this rule is as a last resort in an effort to keep the transaction from going south. "If the deal is near death, then a face to face may be the only way to breathe life back into it," Levin says.

- This is no time for vanity. It's not about defending your position or outwitting the other side, Friedman says. It's about both sides coming together amicably until all the papers are signed and the keys change hands. So put your ego aside and get out of the way.

"If the seller feels beat up so badly, how willing is he going to be to cough up some extra money to make repairs?" Friedman asks. "And it's the same for the buyer. All of a sudden, stupid little things like nail pops become stupid big things."

- "Get it in writing" is a universal truth in any business arrangement. And it's a fundamental rule here, too: Do not negotiate orally.

Oral negotiations are "fraught with potential problems, misunderstandings, misinterpretations, omissions, as well as simple changing of minds," Levin warns. "Put every step of the negotiation in writing."

If the seller agrees to leave the lawn furniture, put it in the contract. If the buyer agrees to allow the seller to remain in the house for a month after the closing, put it in the contract. Otherwise, memories fade and the sale could fall apart when one side or the other says, "I don't remember agreeing to that."

- Don't go back and forth more than twice. If there is a third round of counteroffers, Levin says, the chance of both parties coming together falls dramatically.

When the buyer makes his initial offer, he's thinking about the house and the seller is thinking about his impending move. "They're both focused on what they must do next," Levin says.

When the seller makes a counteroffer, both sides start to lose their focus, he says. "They stop thinking about the house and start thinking about the money. 'Am I paying too much?' 'Am I getting enough?' And if there is a third round, they lose sight of both the house and the money. They begin to make it personal and focus on each other, and that's when the deal breaks down."

Consequently, try to take your best shot early in the negotiations. Don't hold back. Play your hand no later than the second round. Otherwise, you could wind up blowing the deal.

- If you are asked to give something — say, the buyer doesn't want to close for 60 days but you would rather do so ASAP — then ask for something in return. You may not get it, but according to Levin, this ploy effectively mutes the other side's impulse to ask for more.

Otherwise, if you concede on one point — "Yeah, I'll throw in the washer and dryer" — the buyer might sense weakness and ask for the kitchen sink, too, at least metaphorically.

- If you reach an impasse on an item, don't dwell on it. Rather, skip it, get an agreement on everything else and then come back to it. That way, Levin advises, you will build momentum toward a done deal. Otherwise, you may never get past a sticking point.

"If you get all hot and bothered about something, it often influences the rest of the conversation," he explains. "But if you isolate the points of disagreement, the negotiations go much easier."

- The state of the market will dictate which side has the upper hand in negotiations. Given the current state of things, this may be the only offer a seller has seen for months, so the would-be buyer can remain steadfast on price, terms and conditions. But if you're in an area that is picking up steam — or never lost it — the seller may be in the driver's seat. The buyer could be competing with other potential buyers, so the seller can stick to his guns.

But that doesn't mean you shouldn't bend, at least a little. Remember, this is not a war of wills, it's a business transaction that should be devoid of emotion. "Wars have casualties," Friedman says, "not good outcomes."

lsichelman@aol.com

Distributed by United Feature Syndicate.

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