kids playing tug of war

Keep these negotiation tactics in your playbook to ensure you always have the upper hand in real estate deals.


Heed this advice to broker a home deal in your favor.

Certain tricks give you the upper hand in life’s negotiations. One is to win the stare down. You know the drill: You state what you want, and the other person states what they want. Now you’re both staring at each other, seeing who’ll break the gaze — thereby losing — first.

Another has to do with price. It’s generally better to not be the first one to name it. Let the other person state how much something costs or how much they’re willing to pay you, and you can negotiate from there. Just watch any episode of Pawn Stars for proof.

Winning a negotiation stalemate when buying a house comes with its own set of negotiation strategies, even if you’re shopping homes for sale in Charleston, SC, where the people are welcoming and gracious. Read on for the complete playbook.

1. Go into stealth mode

By being a tad sneaky, you can enter your negotiation more informed than the seller when it comes to home value.

“Not many people know that they can have their own independent appraisal of a home before going into contract,” says Mario Mazzamuto, a San Francisco real estate appraiser.

By doing so, you’ll find out what the home’s worth, and you’ll learn more about the property and neighborhood. This info can help you make an informed offer.

2. Kick the tires

This euphemism, which actually comes from determining the quality of the tires before buying a car, can extend to thoroughly researching an investment before buying. And how do you do that when buying a house? By getting a home inspection.

“Having a professional home inspection can help identify costly defects in a home, which gives a buyer leverage in either negotiating for a lower price or getting the buyer to perform repairs,” says Welmoed Sisson, a Maryland home inspector.

3. Get ready to rumble

If you’re in a hot market, you’ve got to consider your competition.

In hot markets, “Chances are very high that there are more than two other offers on the table for every single property that comes onto the market,” says Arvin Sahakian, a California real estate broker and vice president of BeSmartee, an online mortgage brokerage.

That pretty much rules out making a lowball offer. What should you do instead?

“Offer the asking price, reduce contingencies, submit a solid mortgage preapproval, show a copy of the 3% earnest money deposit, and put down 20% or more as a down payment,” says Sahakian. Boom, the house is yours.

4. Count the days

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.” And homes that have sat on the market too long start to lose their appeal as well.

“After 30 days, the home has been market-tested,” says David Feldberg, a California real estate broker. If it didn’t sell by then, the buyer has a lot more leverage in the negotiation process.

“For a seller, having strangers come through all the time stinks. Sellers are more likely to make concessions at this point,” Feldberg adds.

5. Recognize desperation

You’ve seen the signs in that friend who’s desperate for a date: the eager smile, the begging look, the willingness to jump at a moment’s notice. Well, desperate, or motivated, sellers also give off some telltale signs.

“You can usually determine how motivated they are based on their situation and why they are moving,” says Nathan Pierce, an Arizona real estate broker. “Perhaps the property is distressed, or it’s a family looking for a larger home.”

6. Hire a shark

People often call lawyers “sharks.” But some real estate agents can be just as aggressive. And that’s the kind you want if you like to play hardball.

For hard negotiating to work, “It’s important to have a [real estate agent] who enjoys negotiations and is effective in getting the best arrangements for their clients,” says Wendy Flynn, a Texas agent.

Besides focusing only on price, Flynn says, you can negotiate the closing date, the seller’s contribution to closing costs, a home warranty, and home repairs.

Here’s a tactic that’s not for the faint of heart, offered by Andrew Lamb, a California real estate agent and a certified negotiation expert: He includes a zero-repair allowance clause to get his client’s offer accepted over any others and still have the seller agree to repairs later.

The plan works like this: You agree to buy the home as is. If you live in a state that allows you to back out of the contract if the inspection reveals major issues, and there are major issues, you tell the seller you’re walking away since you agreed to not request repairs. Lamb says that in most cases, the seller will negotiate those repairs to not lose the sale.

7. Show some empathy

If playing hardball isn’t your style, be so likable that the seller just can’t refuse you.

“One way to do this is to put yourself in the seller’s shoes,” says Roh Habibi, California real estate agent and star of the TV show Million Dollar Listing San Francisco. He recommends that his clients write a heartfelt letter to the seller. “Tell about yourself and your family and why this would be the perfect home for you.”

Another advantage, according to Habibi, is that the stronger a seller feels about you, the more likely they’ll be to budge on credits for home repairs.

This advice applies to million-dollar homes and ones that … aren’t. Jeremy Brandt, CEO of WeBuyHouses.com, says, “Speaking directly with the home seller makes all the difference in the world. A personal connection can have a huge impact when negotiating.”

8. Be professional

In fact, it helps if you “treat the process like a part-time job, complete with deadlines and extra workload,” says Beth Roach, a California real estate agent. “If you treat [the buying process] seriously and put in some effort, you will get a better result.”

Do this by responding to counteroffers in a timely manner. Roach explains, “Sellers are looking at how you will be to work with during the escrow process, so don’t lag.”

9. But play it cool

Keep your poker face on at all times, even if inside you’re hoping against hope, fingers crossed, that you get that house.

“Whoever wants or needs something more badly than the other party loses a great deal of leverage and consequently faces a much tougher time successfully negotiating,” says Tali Raphaely, president of Armour Title Co.

Develop the mentality that if it’s meant to be, it will be, he says. And having a backup plan couldn’t hurt.

Do you have a favorite negotiation strategy? Share it with us in the comments section!