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Tempted to throw caution (and your budget) to the wind if it means buying your dream home? Cool your jets. An analysis from CoreLogic found that as many as one-third of buyers spend more than expected on their home, and one-third cop to putting down more for their down payment than originally planned.
If you’ve ever stood in a house for sale and imagined yourself living there, it’s not hard to imagine how this loosening of the purse strings happens, so to speak. But pass up the opportunity to negotiate, and you could face some long-term regrets over this purchase and whether you missed out on getting a better deal.
Put on your poker face and follow this set of proven negotiation tactics top agents use to help their buyer clients — even those who are quite love-stricken.
Do your homework on the house, owners, and neighborhood
Sellers rarely reveal information that would weaken their own position of power on purpose. But look for clues that indicate whether you have any points of leverage as a buyer with the following steps:
Observe the state of the house
If the house is empty, the seller may have moved already. That often means they’re juggling two sets of housing payments, indicating that they’re motivated to sell and willing to make more concessions to move the deal along.
On the flip side, if you’re looking at a house packed to the brim with possessions, it could mean that the sellers would appreciate some extra time to pack up. This gives you the opportunity to ask for a little help with closing costs or perhaps a home warranty in exchange for a longer closing timeline.
Knock on some neighbors’ doors
This negotiation tip comes from Carl Medford, a top agent in Fremont, California, writing for Inman, who offers the following advice: “Potential buyers should talk to as many neighbors as possible. Ask what locals like about the neighborhood. Inquire about any potential problems.” Knocking on doors can be awkward if you’re on the shy side, but it’s an easy way to get the lay of the land, and dig up any info that could aid you in negotiations.
Look up crime stats for the area
AreaVibes and NeighborhoodScout are two online resources where you can look up information about neighborhood crime statistics. Family Watchdog is a free service that locates any registered sex offenders in the area. Knowing any undesirable neighborhood characteristics will be critical for your decision in whether to move forward with home purchase and give you negotiation leverage in the event you find something that would affect property values or an area’s overall livability.
Find out the motivation of the seller
Easier said than done, but if you or your agent inquires about why the seller is selling, it can reveal where they’re willing to negotiate and how motivated they are to sell. Todd Auslander, a top agent with 19 years experience, says the easiest way is to simply ask, “Why are you selling?” Keep in mind, it may be challenging to get to the truth (in some cases, even the listing agent may not know the real reason the seller has decided to move on).
Bring your own comps analysis to the table
As you go to make a bid on a house, your agent will advise you on whether to bid above, below, or right at asking price. They’ll come to you with insights like, “They’re shooting a little high” or “This property’s going to go fast.”
Agents base these insights on their knowledge of the market and what are called comparable sales, or the pool of recently sold homes that are similar in location, size, and condition to the house that’s up for sale.
Through your agent you can access MLS (multiple listing service) property data to do some DIY comps analysis that will help you get an idea of what the fair market value for a house is. You can also look at online listing sites, but the MLS is your most up-to-date and comprehensive source of property data.
Let’s say you identify a few comparable properties that sold for significantly less than the seller is asking for. Bingo! That information can be invaluable in supporting your price negotiations, from the position of: What makes your house better than this one? What justifies me paying you more for it?
In addition, check for how long the house has been on the market. If the listing’s days on market number is 30 days or above, then the seller may be more receptive to a lower offer or negotiating in general on price. On the flip side, if the listing is fresh and you hear it’s generating a lot of interest, then you likely have less power and should put your best foot forward with a strong offer.
Be firm but reasonable about the inspection results
Your professional inspection results will act as a roadmap for what to address before this house becomes yours. However, negotiations will be more effective if you’re strategic about what you ask for.
“Our job is to fight for our clients to get as much as we can from the inspection,” says Auslander.
“Now, we’re not going after the cosmetic-level issues. We’re going to go after things that affect our client’s health, safety, and the structural integrity of the home.”
If you discover the house needs a new heating system, or comes with electrical issues or mold, you can absolutely bargain for a credit or replacement. But start a war over nitpicky fixes under $100 or cosmetic imperfections? That’s liable to poison negotiations from here on out.
Once you’ve got your list of requests ready to go, “Do everything in writing,” says Auslander. “Nothing should be verbal.”
Ask the seller to cover a portion of your closing costs
Closing costs are one-time fees that are roughly about 2% to 5% of the purchase price. If a home is $500,000, then this comes to between $10,000 and $25,000. These costs cover lender and broker fees (charged by most lenders) and third-party fees (charged on nearly all loans), such as property taxes, title transfer taxes, homeowners insurance, and the like.
When you’re putting a chunk of money down for a house, paying closing costs on top of everything else can feel like a lot at once.
If you can get the seller to cover all or a portion of these costs, that’s a huge win (though the seller is not obligated to do so). However, some sellers may be more receptive to pitching in on closing costs than they would be reducing the price — so it’s a good request to keep in your back pocket in the event of a price stalemate.
Negotiate for a little help with mortgage discount points
Some buyers choose to pay discount points to certain lenders at closing in an effort to buy down their interest rate (This is a trade-off, though — you’ll have to weigh the cost of paying more upfront versus your interest savings over time, which will be more advantageous if you plan to stay in the house for a longer period.)
If you do decide to go the discount points route, it’s another line item you can potentially negotiate with the seller to help out with. It’s more likely that you’d be able to ask for this concession in a buyer’s market when the seller is in a weaker negotiating position.
When you make this ask, be sure the seller knows what’s it in for them: The IRS notes that although sellers can’t deduct points they pay as interest on their tax return, they can count what they paid as a selling expense to reduce their gain realized. That lowers the amount of taxes they’d owe on the home sale profits or makes it less likely that they’d owe taxes on the gain at all, which is a compelling point to bring up in negotiations.
Put your foot down on a home warranty so if stuff breaks… you’re covered
Imagine you’ve moved into your dream home and suddenly the AC busts in the middle of summer. You could be shelling out $1,200 to $1,800 at a time when you’re relatively house poor. A home warranty can help you protect against having to cover a big-ticket expense right away.
So, all in all, a home warranty can be a good item to negotiate with the seller — simply ask if they’d be willing to cover all or part of the costs of the home warranty at closing for your first year or two of ownership. A home warranty typically costs $350 to $650 per year and usually covers your major appliances and systems — such as heating and cooling and kitchen appliances. In the grand scheme, it’s a small chunk of change for pretty big peace of mind.
Give the seller plenty of time to move out — in exchange for something you want
Your move-in date can be a bargaining chip. If the seller wants to stay longer to finish out the school year or needs more time to move across the country, and you’re flexible, you can ask for something you want in exchange.
The best deal for you may be price savings or the snagging a piece of furniture you loved in the house and want included in the sale. Or if the seller needs a later closing date, perhaps they pay your rent for a month.
Negotiating on the possession date is pretty standard and may help you save a few thousand dollars. The key is understanding what the seller needs, then being able to give it to them, while getting something your heart wants in return.
If the house appraises under contract value, hold your ground
Even if you love a house, paying more than market value is dangerous. Let’s say you buy the home, and in a year lose your job and struggle to make the mortgage payment.
If you paid market value, you’re in a better position to simply put the house back on the market and pay off the remaining mortgage balance with the proceeds. But if you’re upside down (because you overpaid and now the house isn’t worth what you bought it for) you risk having to go through a short sale or foreclosure.
If the appraisal comes in under contract value, use it as a way to re-negotiate with the seller. At this point, the seller has some skin in the game and may want the sale to go forward as much as you do. Ask them to lower their price to the appraised value. If that’s an absolute no-go, then you can try meeting in the middle to cover the difference. What’s fair is fair.
Dig deep to find your inner Shakespeare
When you find the perfect home, you’ll want to stand out from the crowd in a hot market. Auslander describes a time that a house had multiple offers within 48 hours: “One of the buyers wrote a letter that was one of the most beautiful letters we had ever read. It made our seller practically cry.”
The letter described how the home was perfect for their family, and it made the seller believe the buyer would love their home as much as they did. A heartfelt letter shows the seller you care and helps you get on their good side, potentially elevating you above the competition. Sometimes the most effective negotiation tactic isn’t hardballing; it’s tapping into your soft side.
Negotiating as a buyer: You won’t regret making the ask
Understanding how to negotiate a house gives you confidence when emotions are getting the best of you. At the end of the day, you (with the help of your agent) need to be your biggest advocate because this is no small financial matter. No matter how much you love a home’s layout or gorgeous hardwood floors, you’ll regret not taking the opportunity to at least try and negotiate where you could. Bottom line?
It never hurts to ask.
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