Negotiation strategies differ depending on how well the home is priced and who's on the other side. If you're trying to buy a short sale listing where the lender has to agree to accept less than the amount owed, the seller doesn't have much say in the negotiations about price unless he can contribute money to pay down the loan amount.
Regardless of who you're dealing with, you're more likely to grab a seller's or lender's attention if you are preapproved for the mortgage you'll need and can provide verification of cash for the down payment and closing costs.
Many buyers feel that cash is king. If buyers are willing and able to pay all cash with no mortgage, no hassling with the lender and no appraisal contingency, they feel they're owed a price concession. Not all sellers agree. Some, who are confident in the value of their home, would rather work with an offer from a well-qualified buyer who needs to obtain a mortgage, but who will pay a higher price.
Before you start negotiating, you should understand as much as you can about the other party. For instance, if the sellers are moving to a retirement home, they might go for the highest-priced offer in a multiple-offer situation, even though it might not be ideal in other regards. If they are liquidating their last asset, every penny will count.
An all-cash or large-cash-down buyer might not be able to negotiate a "deal" based on the fact that no lender will be involved. But if the home is a good value and suits your long-term needs, you might increase your offer price and include a mortgage. This way, you conserve cash for other uses.
House Hunting Tip: Many buyers don't want to negotiate. They want their first offer to be their best offer. Usually, the only time this is effective is if yours is the only offer, the house is priced right for the market, and you offer full price. In this market, you're better off planning for some negotiation, and not putting all your cards on the table at once.
In most areas, the home-sale market still favors buyers. A lot of sellers are selling for less than they paid. Some have to bring money to the closing. Sellers who have owned for years are selling for less than they would have years ago. It's natural that they would want to try for the highest price possible.
Negotiations are about more than price. Generally, the fewer the contingencies or the cleaner the contract, the more attractive it will be to the seller. Closing and possession dates can become issues at the bargaining table. What's included and excluded, time periods to satisfy contingencies, and virtually everything in the contract is negotiable.
Since everything is up for grabs, be clear about what's not negotiable. Show flexibility in areas that will hopefully be valuable to the sellers, such as buying "as is" regarding some needed repairs.
Don't waste your time with sellers who are firm at a price that is considerably over market value. Wait until they become realistic while you continue looking. Some sellers eventually get tired of having their home listed and reduce the price to market value. Others don't.
Sellers need to understand that buyers in today's market will walk away from a negotiation if they feel they're not getting anywhere or are being treated unfairly. Buyers could become suspicious or disappear if they're told by the sellers or their agent that other buyers are lining up to make an offer when they aren't.
The Closing: A smart strategy is to defend your position while being honest and fair with the other party.
Dian Hymer, a real estate broker with more than 30 years' experience, is a nationally syndicated real estate columnist and author of "House Hunting: The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers" and "Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer's Guide."