How to Negotiate When Selling a House: Your Playbook for 5 Common Disputes

When you set out to sell your house, you want to be in the driver’s seat during negotiations to leverage the best deal possible. There’s a lot on the line: moving dates, closing costs, and ultimately your home’s final sale price.

According to a recent survey, just 64% of sellers were satisfied with the selling process in 2018. We want you to join the winning side of this statistic, so we’ve combed the internet to provide you with the best possible responses to the 5 most common scenarios:

  1. You receive an offer lower than your asking price.
  2. Your buyer asks you to cover all or a portion of the closing costs.
  3. Multiple offers came in and you’d like to leverage them for the best deal.
  4. The buyer asks you to leave the window treatments (or another item attached to the house) after you requested to take them.
  5. You’re faced with a laundry list of repair requests after the home inspection.

Going beyond strategies, our list includes context to help you understand why these scenarios arise, tips to prevent them from happening in the first place, and expert advice from Marc Takacs, a top-selling agent in Atlanta who has aided sellers’ negotiations in hundreds of transactions.

Start with negotiation preparation: Collaborate with a top agent on your priorities

Let’s start with what you can do to prepare before the buyers enter the picture. The first step is to find a top real estate agent with strong negotiation skills to guide you through the sale and play liaison with prospective buyers. Top agents can also make a difference in closing negotiations faster; Takacs for instance, sells homes 65% quicker than Atlanta’s average agent.

Work together to set an intention for your sale so you can cater the negotiations to achieve that goal. Is your endgame to move to another town to start a new job, is it maximizing your profit, is it timing the move with your kids’ school year?

A clear goal will shape the terms you push for and the concessions you offer.

In addition to having a main objective, set a bottom line—the absolute lowest price you’re willing to accept for your home. Write this price down, share the price with a close friend, and commit to it. When you’re clear on your lowest price, you’re more likely to keep your cool during negotiations and walk away if it’s a bad deal.

Top agent recommendation:

Takacs tells sellers to be an active part of strategy formation. “The seller needs to be extremely involved,” he says, noting that the seller, not the agent, ultimately makes the decisions during negotiation.

To prep, brush up on your deal-making skills with a book such as Getting to Yes. Written by Harvard law professors who aided the Carter administration with international negotiations, this 200-page text runs the gamut from removing emotions to crafting deals based on mutual gains. With over 12 million copies sold in 36 languages worldwide, this classic will improve your communication skills, molding your perspective on negotiating for the better.

Now, pair this preparation with our recommended strategies below and you’ll cruise through the negotiation process. Let’s dive into the five scenarios representative of the times you’re most likely to clash with buyers (and how to negotiate through them).

A blank piece of paper with a pencil used while negotiating a home sale.
Source: (Jan Kahánek/ Unsplash)

Scenario 1: You receive an offer lower than your asking price.

Let’s start with one of the most common scenarios for a seller: you receive an offer lower than your asking price. You have a couple of options to take the wheel on the negotiation:

  1. Counter with your original asking price.
  2. Counter somewhere between your original asking price and the buyer’s offer.
  3. Hold strong close to your asking price, but make other concessions to sweeten the pot for the buyer.

If the buyer’s offer is reasonable, you can respond with a counter offer between your listing price and their offer. Typically this will lead an interested buyer to reply with a new counter offer in between those numbers, giving you the opportunity to counter again. This goes on until you reach a price both parties are happy with.

One strategy can help you avoid back-and-forth: Respond with only a slightly lower price—say lower by one or two thousand—but add in one of the following concessions:

  • Agree to a move out date that favors the buyer
  • Pay a percentage of the buyer’s closing costs
  • Off-set the cost of a future needed repair
  • Include furniture with the purchase
  • Give credits at closing for HOA fees

This move will show you are firm on the value of your home, but still flexible to negotiate a win-win deal.

Top agent recommendation:

Respond to every offer, even if buyers lowball.

“Counter with where you want to be. It’s a starting point,”  Takacs suggests. “They like it enough to put it on paper, and we should at least respond to get them where we need them to be.”

If you receive an offensively low offer, Takacs advocates to simply respond with your asking price to restart the conversation.

Now, what if the following offers (from new buyers) are just as low? This could be a sign your home’s listing price is off the mark. Your home should only be 5%-10% above the value of comparable properties and even this discrepancy is usually only pulled off in a seller’s market.

Your best bet is to follow your agent’s advice using one of their go-to house pricing strategies and to take cues from the market on whether a price reduction is called for.

Two women negotiating during a home sale.
Source: (Mimi Thian/ Unsplash)

Scenario 2: Your buyer asks you to cover all or a portion of the closing costs.

You and the buyer have agreed on a price for your home. Now, they’re asking you to cover the closing costs. Your options are:

  • Agree to cover the costs
  • Raise the sale price, cover the costs, and net out with the initial sale price
  • Reject their request to cover any closing costs

In this scenario, you need to look at the concession from both sides. From your perspective, paying the buyer’s closing costs, averaging 2% -5% of the purchase price, will lower the final price you walk away with.

However, from a buyer’s perspective, it may provide them with the cash necessary to close the deal. According to a recent survey, 88% of buyers financed their home in 2018. Of those who financed, the average repeat-buyers relied on financing to cover 84% of the costs while first-time buyers relied on it even more to cover 93%.

With down payments being a hurdle for so many buyers, added closing costs can easily be the tipping point in their ability to make a purchase.

To make it work, you don’t need to cave into taking a financial hit to cover the costs. Go for a mutually beneficial solution: agree to cover costs—but only if the buyer will agree to a higher sale price. That way, the buyer can qualify for more money from their lender so they can effectively roll the closing costs into their mortgage. You’ll “pay” the cash for closing costs, but will still walk away with the money initially agreed to.

Top agent recommendation:

Takacs advocates for this latter strategy: “Oftentimes, a buyer can qualify for a few dollars more than the price of the home. So in those cases, I like to take the price up, assuming we think it will appraise, and leave the [sum of the] closing cost with the buyer.” Let’s take a closer look:

Example:

If your sale price is $500,000 and the buyer’s closing costs are $10,000, raise the sale price to $510,000. Now the buyer can essentially finance the $10,000 into the amount borrowed for their loan. As the seller, you pay $10,000 cash for the closing costs and still net out with $500,000.

Takacs reminds us this will only work if the home appraises, meaning the lender agrees the new price, $510,000 in our example, reflects the value of the home.

A woman using a cell phone to negotiate while selling a house.
Source: (Priscilla Du Preez/ Unsplash)

Scenario 3: Multiple offers came in and you’d like to leverage them for the best deal.

How about a best case scenario: you’ve received multiple offers. Now you have the opportunity to:

  • Incite a bidding war, encouraging buyers to place offers better than those on the table
  • Negotiate with the top offer, swaying other areas of the deal to your favor

At first glance, starting a bidding war seems like the most exciting option. If you’re open with buyers about the interest, you can influence them to raise their offers so you can walk away with the highest sale price possible.

But proceed with caution. This tactic could backfire and lead discouraged buyers who feel they’ve put forth a fair offer to pursue other properties.

If you’re happy with the price offered by the highest bidder, you should still inform them of the competition in order to influence negotiations to your favor. If the buyer feels there is a line at the door, they’re more likely to go with your preference for move out date, closing costs, repairs needed, etc, to win the purchase.

Top agent recommendation:

With either approach, Takacs emphasizes the importance of keeping communication open with the interested parties. “We’ll generally disclose with the buyers that there are multiple offers and then we’ll try to set a deadline for the seller to make a decision,” he explains. “That way the buyers know what’s going on, they know when to expect a notice or for a decision to be made.”

Communicating with prospective buyers will give you time to evaluate and plot your next move. For instance, you can create a spreadsheet comparing the offers and their respective stipulations. After a closer look, you may realize that the buyer with the higher offer expects you to cover $4,000 in closing costs, making the next highest bid the better offer.

Window treatments that will be negotiated on when selling a house.
Source: (Brandon Morgan/ Unsplash)

Scenario 4: The buyer asks you to leave the window treatments (or another item attached to the house) after you requested to take them.

As minor as it may seem, disagreements over what items stay with the home or leave with the seller can delay the closing process, affecting the emotions of both parties.

By default, fixtures—immovable or “bolted in” elements such as built-in furniture, lighting fixtures, and fixed window treatments such as blinds and curtain rods—stay with the home. The same goes for home alarms, smoke detectors, hardware, and landscaping. There’s a gray area when it comes to removable window treatments like curtains and free-standing appliances like washers and refrigerators. Here’s what you can do if a buyer asks for an item you intend to keep:

  • Specify which items stay and go in your purchase agreement.
  • Swap the item for other furniture or something of equal value.
  • Avoid the situation to begin with by removing what you intend to keep before buyers even see it.

To address gray areas, you can specify what items will be included with the sale by adding a clause in the purchase agreement. Here you can outline exactly what you plan to leave with the house to avoid disagreement down the line.

If the buyer requests an item not specified in the clause, such as a piece of furniture you have the right and desire to keep, you can offer another item as a concession. If they are crazy about that porch swing you can’t live without, offer to leave the matching patio furniture. If they love the coffee table you’re taking to your new house, offer the cozy armchair by the fireplace. If you are open to make an exchange, it can move the negotiation along and boost camaraderie in the sale.

Now, admittedly the last option only applies if you’re reading this before you’ve showcased your home to sell. Nonetheless, you can avoid petty fights over drapes and sconces by removing them before your home is listed.

Top agent recommendation:

Takacs expounds on the idea of removing valuables from the home before buyers have a chance to see them: “Our advice to sellers is if they want to keep grandma’s chandelier that’s been in the family for 6 generations, take it down. Don’t let the buyer know that it’s even possible. Take it off the table right now.”

Even if the item adds to the beauty of the house, hide it away. It’s not worth risking squabbles over it later on.

To summarize, being proactive from the get-go by removing sentimental items and clearly disclosing items included in the sale in the Purchase Agreement are the best ways to avoid misunderstandings here.

Post its when lists of items to negotiate on when selling a house.
Source: (Brandon Morgan/ Unsplash)

Scenario 5: You’re faced with a laundry list of repair requests after the home inspection.

The standard home inspector’s report will cover the condition of the home from the floor of the basement to the peak of the roof and everything in the walls between. Even if no work is urgent, a buyer may leverage the inspection findings to get you to make repairs before the purchase.

Let’s look at your best options to counter:

  • Offer a home warranty
  • Give the buyer money to do the repairs

Home warranties are basically insurance policies covering home systems and appliances, repairs, and maintenance. Offering a home warranty up front is a great way to manage the amount of money you grant for repairs. It’s usually around $500, a small concession to make that benefits both parties. You can compare warranties on Consumer Advocates website to find one that best suits your home.

If the buyer requests a repair not covered by the warranty, give them money to do the work rather than have it put into your own hands. Repairs can take weeks to coordinate and often require more time and money than anticipated. Avoid delaying your home’s closing and pass the torch to the buyer.

Top agent recommendation:

Takacs reiterates this point: “if there is a list of repairs, we are proponents of giving someone credit on closing costs or price or whatever in order to not actually do those repairs.” He elaborates that this is also for the buyers’ benefit since it gives them the reins to “control the quality and level of work.”

Stay on course to close your best deal

While the scenarios you face as a seller will vary negotiation to negotiation, there are always opportunities to redirect the outcome to your favor. Your best deal relies on your ability to steer the process in the direction of your goal, shaping concessions to benefit both the buyer and you. With this practice and a top real estate agent on your team, you’ll negotiate your way to a happy home sale.

Article Image Source: (Pixabay/ Pexels)

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