No One Wins in a One-Sided Deal
Negotiations aren’t about fighting for everything your client wants.
The last time I had a seller who refused
to accept a dime under his listing price,
he ended up selling for nearly $30,000
less. It was 2009, when home values
were just beginning their free fall, so that
obviously had an impact on his situation.
But he could have come out of the deal in
much better shape if he had been willing
to negotiate. Instead, he turned away the
two buyers who submitted offers slightly
lower than his ask. Eventually, he grew
so desperate to sell that he had to take
anything he could get.
I don’t want to see any clients lose out
on the best deal possible because they’re
too stubborn to back off on some of their
demands for the greater good of the
transaction. So up front, I tell every buyer
and seller I work with: Be prepared to lose
something in the negotiation. You have to
give up something in order to get more of
what you want.
Reason to Stay in the Game
I tried to tell my seller the same thing.
We had listed his home for $145,000,
which was still a reasonable price at
the beginning of the downturn. We got
an immediate offer of $136,000, and
knowing where the market was headed,
I told the seller it was a good offer. He
insisted on getting his full ask, but I
suggested instead that we could ask the
buyer to cover the closing costs or forgo
minor repairs in return for a discounted
sale price. Both sides needed a reason to
stay in the game if the transaction was
going to move forward, I said.
The buyer raised his offer twice, and
even then, my seller came back asking for
another $500. His unwillingness to meet
in the middle drove the buyer away. We
would go through this process again with
another buyer months later—after the
market was even further in the tank—only
to lose the deal again because my seller
refused to negotiate on the price. I de-
cided I couldn’t work with my client any-
more, and later, he sold his property while
working with another agent for $116,500
after it became clear he wasn’t going to
do any better. Refusing to negotiate even
when he had a better offer on the table
cost him dearly in the end.
There will always be clients who are
averse to listening to their agent’s advice.
But that stubbornness should serve as
a red flag at the beginning as to how a
potential transaction may unfold. It’s not
likely to go well. It’s impossible to negotiate with someone who refuses to see
the other side’s perspective. We have to
try to teach our clients flexibility and the
importance of addressing the other side’s
needs as well as their own.
We’re like referees. Without our guid-
ance, deals would grow contentious be-
tween buyers and sellers who don’t have
the skill to negotiate. That’s the worst
kind of deal because egos get bruised
and the deal gets personal and falls apart
quickly. As professionals, we have a
responsibility to help our clients see how
the give-and-take can foster a win-win.
I think that’s where many agents
misunderstand their role as a negotiator.
They think defending their client’s best
interest means going to the mat with
every demand, big or small. I try to
explain to my clients that what they want
most of all is a smooth transaction that
closes—one that minimizes conflict and
takes up as little time as possible so they
can reach their goal more quickly. If I can
bring my clients into the deal with the
understanding that they may need to give
to get, then everyone can end up feeling
So when I tell my clients at the start
of a transaction that negotiations involve
giving something up, I can gauge whether
they’re willing to trust my advice. Most
aren’t as unwavering as my seller, who
wouldn’t listen to a word I said. But for
those who remain inflexible, I know the
deal won’t get far—and it’s not worth my
time to continue the working relationship.
Mike Cooper is a principal broker at Cornerstone Business
Group Inc. in Winchester, Va.
We have to help clients see how the give-and-
take fosters a win-win for everyone. Defending a
client’s best interest doesn’t mean going to the
mat with every demand.