Touring prospective houses can feel like wandering through an infinite, imaginary desert: You’re tired, you’re cranky, and you’re not sure if the experience is EVER. GOING. TO. END.
So when you’ve finally found “The One,” it’s an amazing feeling.
You can already picture your first brunch in its adorable breakfast
But wait. Before you summon the moving truck, your dream home’s
seller has to pick you, too. Luckily, the key to locking down your ideal
abode doesn’t always mean offering the most cash. Here are five ways to
tip the odds in your favor.
#1 Negotiate with a Smile
Unlike most commercial real estate transactions, the buying and
selling of a home is complicated by all kinds of emotions, explains Sara
Benson of Benson Stanley Realty in Chicago. Often, how the seller feels
about you can be more important than your money.
“People tend to do business with those they like and trust,” she says.
One of Benson’s favorite examples of this phenomenon occurred
when one of her clients was second in line for a home. While the
first-place bidders were negotiating their contract, they whipped out a
long list of unreasonable demands for the seller.
“This infuriated the homeowner, who finally told them, ‘My
property isn’t for sale to you at any price!’” Benson recalls. The
seller ended up offering Benson’s clients the house, even though their
bid was $10,000 below that of the first buyers.
Lesson learned? “Don’t nitpick over items that are insubstantial,
like a torn window screen or a $50 valve on a hot water heater,” says
Benson. “This will anger a seller more than anything.” And that, she
says, could be a deal breaker.
#2 Get Personal
Bruce Ailion, an agent with RE/MAX in Woodstock, Ga., agrees that
profit isn’t always the seller’s primary motivation. He recalls a
recent deal in which he was representing an older couple selling their
long-time family home.
“We had two offers: one from an investor paying cash, the second from financed first-time buyers.”
Despite Ailion’s recommendations, the sellers chose the
first-time buyers, even though the cash offer was higher and would have
been a much simpler transaction. Ultimately, what mattered most for
Ailion’s clients was to pass their beloved home on to a deserving young
#3 Figure Out the Seller's Unique Motivation
Understanding why the sellers have put their home on the market
is yet another powerful tool a buyer can bring to the negotiating table,
“Some sellers want a quick sale; others need time to find a home.
Some are focused on price, others on certainty,” he says. “There are so
many intangibles. It takes a deep understanding to make a good deal for
See what information you can glean about the seller — from your
agent or even from the seller’s neighbors — to arm yourself with as much
information as possible.
“The more flexible a buyer can be on closing and possession, the
more likely they’ll be able to negotiate a lower price,” agrees Benson.
“They’re giving the seller peace of mind and the comfort of not having
to rush out.”
#4 Write a Love Letter
Sometimes, a heartfelt note from a potential buyer can make all the difference, even when the chances seem pretty slim.
Darcey Regan, a Chicago-based HR executive, had already bid on
another home when she and her husband stumbled upon a gorgeous old
Victorian. Instantly, they were smitten. “I grew up in an old house, and
the sellers had done a really great job of maintaining and renovating
this one,” she says.
Unfortunately, multiple people had already placed offers on the
house, including several developers who were planning to demolish the
property. Regan felt her only hope was to write the sellers a letter. In
it, she talked about growing up in a similar house, and how much she
respected the owners’ efforts to preserve their home.
Within 24 hours, the sellers told her the house was hers. “It
turns out they really wanted someone who would keep the house rather
than tear it down,” she says.
Though it felt like a long shot, Regan believes her note was
successful because it was genuine. Her advice? “Write a letter only if
you’re really in love with the house, not because someone told you to.”
#5 Work With a Pro
It also helps to have a knowledgeable, well-respected pro on your
side — someone who understands market realities and who will work well
with the seller’s agent.
How do you find that seasoned pro with the sterling reputation?
“Ask for referrals from your personal and professional network, and
interview at least three different [agents] before you choose the one
you feel most comfortable working with,” advises Benson.
Residential real estate is a game of both head and heart. Smart
buyers who employ both are the ones most likely to win the home of their