With a pre-construction home, I have found that most builders rarely discount the base price of the home. They cannot upset the pricing of the already sold homes in the community by discounting your home. What most builders do is offer a discount on the upgrades by either offering so much money towards upgrades or by offering a discount on certain preferred upgrades like counter-tops or fencing. Basically, the builder is offering these specials by leveraging their relationship with the vendors of these products. It helps you get the upgrades and keeps the community pricing stable.
With a spec home, it is much different. No builder wants their money tied up in a finished home. They set their price, which is the base price plus the cost of upgrades, and I help you negotiate from there. At $279,000, I would start about $265,000 and I would think you could settle in the high $260's or low $270's. Every builder is different, but I am never afraid to try and get my buyer the best possible deal. If the builder is stubborn, then I try to get you after market upgrades, either for free or at a drastic discount - fencing, fridge, etc.. The builder will take a look at its spec sheet and add up all the upgrades. For whatever reason, this upgrade amount seems to be the amount they can negotiate with. They will typically never go below base price so that they can maintain the property values in the community.
As for giving you money back, the lender will never let it happen. If you are a cash buyer, they may give you an additional discount, but it is usually 1-1.5%, if at all.
Jim, I am here to help. Representing buyers and new construction are what I do most and what I do best. Call me.