Real estate negotiation sounds easy on paper, but in practice even small mistakes can sink deals. You need to understand psychology, strategy, and a shifting market to get the best outcome for your clients. Not easy!
That’s why we decided to update this guide to real estate negotiation. We worked with The Close’s resident real estate coach Trevor James, Ryan Serhant, and top agents from across the country to add their best negotiation strategies for 2023. Since we know you’re busy, we only included actionable tips you can start using today. Let’s dive in.
1. Master the 3 Ps of Real Estate Negotiation: Push, Pull, Persist
“For negotiations, we follow the 3 Ps: push, pull, and persist. This helps us have options as the discussions progress or regress. For example, we push information, data, proactive help, understanding and listening. We persist, relentless in our pursuit of getting to yes. And we can pull: yes … pull the deal away.
“Whether I’m selling a home for $1 million or $130 million, the minute the buyer likes it, every other agent would run to write the offer. Sometimes being the boldest pays off with the biggest successes for your clients and your business.
“It’s important to remember that, in negotiations, the one with the power is the one who will walk away. So we can sometimes use ‘pull’ in our strategies. This works with buyers and sellers and in any market. In addition to that, it’s always good as a broker to demonstrate you don’t just want to rush to do any deal for clients—you want the best deal for them. So taking the deal away can be effective to create urgency for getting the deal done and for your relationships with clients as well.”
2. Set Realistic Expectations
“During negotiations, one of the most effective strategies I use is a combination of managing expectations and practicing discretion. For my buyers, I like to run through scenarios to anticipate the seller’s moves, staying one step ahead in the negotiation. I keep details about the buyer and seller to a minimum to avoid tipping our hand or becoming biased about the property.
“Similarly, for my sellers, I prepare them for the reality of lower-than-expected offers and potential inspection issues, especially in this shifting market. I include these considerations in the net sheet to set reasonable expectations. This way, both sides are better equipped to handle the twists and turns of the negotiation process, leading to more successful outcomes for all parties involved.”
3. Keep Your Emotions in Check During Negotiations
“Emotion, especially anger, is a weakness at the negotiating table, and if you can’t find your poker face, buying and selling real estate is going to be hard for you. Don’t whine, don’t bitch, don’t pout, don’t curse, don’t get angry, don’t pace, and don’t storm out. Things happen. If you want to become a stronger negotiator, you need to learn how to keep your poker face—no matter what the other side throws at you.
“Not everyone is as respectful as they should be. Know this going in and be prepared to let it roll off your back with a smile. It’s the job.”
4. Base Your Negotiations on Market Value, Not Just Asking Price
“My strategy is to calculate the value of a property. This, rather than the asking price, is the starting point for negotiation. It may require an offer above present market value in hot markets to get a home under contract.
“Many people want to lowball, making an offer that will never be accepted. I advise against this. It does not reveal anything about the seller’s position. I like to offer just below the minimum the seller is likely willing to accept. The seller is forced to decide to accept just a little less than their minimum but, if not, will be forced to counter aggressively not to turn away a strong buyer. The analogy I use is tennis: It doesn’t matter how hard your first serve is. If you do not get the ball in play, that first serve is wasted.”
5. Keep Records of Fellow Agents in Your CRM
“Since listing agents can have very different negotiating styles, it’s crucial to keep notes on each listing agent you work with so you can adapt to their working style when you do another deal with them. Did they prefer phone calls or texts? Were they responsive? How long did they take to respond to your emails? This is all useful data you should be noting in your customer relationship manager (CRM).”
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6. Use an Escalation Clause for More Competitive Offers
“An escalation clause is a great way to give your client the best chance to win a multiple-offer situation. Here is the language we use in our counteroffers: We hereby instate an escalation clause. ‘Bob Smith’ is willing to pay $10,000 more than your highest written offer, but not to exceed $1,500,000. A copy of the highest written offer must be sent along with acceptance.”
7. Present Multiple Offers in Person
“Multiple offers can be a headache for your sellers—make it as easy as possible for them. And look, it might be easy to just email over the offers to your sellers as they come in. But if you know this is a hot listing and you’ve got more than three or four good offers, set a deadline with your sellers and schedule a time to sit down with them. Make a spreadsheet of the offers and the terms, and explain each of them to your sellers.
“If you’re unable to do that, a Zoom meeting or a phone call is still better than a lengthy email chain with PDF attachments cobbled together. Share your screen or make sure your client is in front of their computer and able to walk through the spreadsheet with you so you can answer any questions and help them understand the offers. ”
8. Negotiate by Phone Before Committing Anything to Paper
“Negotiate deal points over the phone with the cooperating broker before taking it to paper. A counteroffer could get messy when there is a lot of unnecessary back and forth. If you are negotiating with an agent over the phone, it’s helpful to write up the contract as you speak to keep things more straightforward. Multiple counteroffers create confusion and make for a less-than-favorable real estate buying or selling experience. Keep it simple!”
9. Arm Yourself With Data for Stronger Negotiations
“The adage in real estate is location, location, location. When it comes to negotiation, it is data, data, data. Let the data drive your negotiations and decisions. Gather information and leverage it to your advantage. The key is to have more information than the other side.
“The person armed with the most amount of information is more likely to win the negotiation. You should also have an understanding of the best alternative to a negotiated agreement. If negotiations fail, what are the other options for your buyer and seller?”
10. Negotiate With a Win-Win Perspective
“Many new agents make the mistake of starting every negotiation as if they were going into battle. Not only will this annoy the agent on the other side of the deal, with whom you will likely need to work again, but it can actually hurt your client’s interests as well.
“Instead, learn to focus on solutions instead of turning everything into an adversarial crisis. Your clients and fellow agents will thank you.”
Here’s coach Kevin Ward with a quick story to highlight this crucial point:
11. Make Them Believe the ‘Yes’ Was Their Idea
No one likes to be coerced into doing something. That’s why smart negotiators often subtly encourage the other party to think they’re in control. A great way to do this is to offer them a quick out. Studies have shown that using affirming language like “You’ll probably refuse, but…” leads to increased compliance.
“Million Dollar Listing” star Josh Flagg has an example of how you can apply this technique in a negotiation with a seller:
“The buyer is asking for you to pick up the closing costs to seal the deal. You’re free to say no to that, of course, but would you be willing to consider it?”
12. Master the Power of ‘No’
“In real estate, many agents underestimate the power of ‘no,’ especially while they’re under contract. I see this a lot with newer agents in their first few deals. It’s natural to worry about pushing back on clients, but they trust you to guide them through the process.
“Let’s say you’ve got a buyer under contract. They want to request a new roof, but the inspection report says the roof is probably all right for another five to 10 years. Instead of automatically saying ‘yes’ to your client and potentially blowing up the deal, consider a strategic ‘no.’ You could counter by asking for a $10,000 price concession.”
13. Learn What the Other Party Really Wants
“Learn what the other party needs—not really why they are selling or buying, but what’ll satisfy them that they have a win-win sale. Ask the agent questions and praise the good points of the property or the nice character of the buyers if you’ve met them. Put together the best deal so that the closing is smooth and successful. I’ve closed many deals using this mindset.
“Here’s an example: I call the listing agent to say that we are writing an offer. Are there any terms the seller needs? Fast close? Contingency to find a new home? I don’t really ask why the seller is selling, but I will often pose a leading question to find out why they are selling (perhaps I see they’ve owned this home for many years via the title profile, or did they raise their kids in it? Or was this an investment rental?). I take this opportunity to tell the agent about my buyer’s story and the lender involved so far.”
14. Focus on Timing
“When I got into real estate, it was explained to me that one of the most important factors in negotiating with buyers or sellers is the timing. Too fast and everyone feels like it was too easy; too slow and one side may lose confidence or get cold feet. The key to managing the cadence of a deal is communication. Let the other side know what to expect and when. Communicate with the other agent—don’t just leave them in the dark for a day or two.”
15. Offer the Buyer a Credit on Their Mortgage
“Our current market is impacted by higher interest rates, which have decreased buying power. As a listing agent working with a buyer’s agent or buyer who is getting a mortgage as part of their purchase, one strategy is to offer the buyer credit they can use to buy down points on their mortgage.
“A point may cost $10,000, but that $10,000 will offer compounded savings to the buyer over the term of the loan. It will position them to achieve a rate closer to 5% (depending on how many points are purchased), which will be a win in our current market where rates are hovering between 7% and 8%. Instead of going back and forth over the purchase price, change the conversation and repackage those dollars in a thoughtful way.”
16. Use a Framework for Your Negotiation
“In many real estate MBA programs, you might hear a concept called the four Cs. It’s easy to remember and applies to just about every transaction. It starts with a checklist to make sure you’re hitting every step in every transaction (including a follow-up for reviews once you’ve closed) for every transaction. Then, think about what your client can compromise on. Help them see what you have in common and where both sides just won’t budge. Keep this in mind to make things simple: checklist, common interest, conflicting interest and compromise.
“Criteria: If you don’t yet have a checklist or a process for how your transactions should go, you’re doing yourself a disservice. There’s over a dozen steps for every transaction. Make a checklist that you use for every deal so you can eliminate potential potholes that might slow things down.
“Common interest: Identify the mutual benefits. A small concession from you can lead to a much smoother transaction from the other party.
“Conflicting interest: Knowing where both sides won’t budge helps you think strategically about moving forward. If a buyer’s lease is up next month but the seller isn’t motivated to move, you might find it tougher to move things along.
“Compromise: Your expertise in real estate gives you the authority to find a middle ground. Remember that you’re the guide here. Sometimes that $400 bathroom fan isn’t worth losing the condo over. Help your buyer to see the big picture.”
17. Live Conversation Beats Texts & Emails Every Day of the Week
“I remember a transaction with an agent who returns all of my voicemails with text. I have the sense she is making a point that the new generation uses technology. I definitely get that, but I’d like to make a counterpoint: She is missing so much information by communicating only electronically. There is a natural back-and-forth in a conversation where way more information and understanding come out, and those things can be essential in getting to a win-win.
“You might learn, for example, that a seller is very nervous because they are buying a home and trying to close both sales and move the same day. If you are in a multiple-offer situation, your client now has a card to play. Perhaps they can offer the seller a one-week lease after closing. This may win the day.”
18. When Things Get Personal in Negotiations, Sleep on It
“Brokers should not make negotiations personal. Both sides want to get the deal done. If it’s getting personal, I recommend slowing down the negotiation and communicating that both sides should sleep on it before moving forward.
“Communicating and reminding the other side to not take negotiations personally is very important to keep both parties happy and interested in continuing. Focus should always be on the clients and not the brokers.”
19. Boost Your Negotiation Skills With a CNE Designation
“If you’re serious about boosting your negotiation skills, you might consider getting your Certified Negotiation Expert (CNE) designation. It’s hands-on training to help you understand how people make decisions and can help you build trust with clients.
“It’s usually flexible and you get to do role-playing and active learning with other agents. If you’re really looking to up your negotiation game, check it out.”
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FAQs: Mastering Real Estate Negotiation for Agents
What persuasion techniques can help agents during negotiations?
One technique to consider is “anchoring,” where your first offer sets the tone for the negotiation. You can also offer something valuable to the other party, like throwing in staging furniture, to get something in return like extending the closing date.
How should agents handle multiple offer scenarios?
To keep things organized, list all offers in a spreadsheet with key details like price, contingencies, and closing dates. Set a deadline for receiving offers and inform all the interested buyers. When it’s time to discuss the options with your seller, don’t just send the offers over one by one—sit down and have a comprehensive discussion about the pros and cons of each offer.
How can agents project confidence in negotiations?
Building trust is crucial. Be honest, transparent, and provide helpful advice to your clients. One way to show you’re trustworthy is to have testimonials from past clients. People will look you up online and those positive reviews can go a long way. Plus, a glowing review can really help bolster your confidence. Kind words from clients can stay with us for years to come. But keep in mind we all started somewhere. Lean on your network and believe in yourself.
How can agents better understand the other side?
Knowing who you’re working with can really help you during the transaction. Look up the other agent on the MLS. Research their past deals and ask open-ended questions during discussions. For example, you can ask them, “How long has this been the seller’s primary residence?” You might learn that this property isn’t owner-occupied, and the seller is in another state. Just remember, the other agent isn’t an opponent. You’re trying to create a win-win situation for everyone!
How can agents handle price objections effectively?
Look, sometimes two parties are too far apart to close the deal. But keep in mind that this is also an opportunity for you to showcase your expertise. If a buyer or seller questions the price, don’t get defensive. Instead, back up the reasoning with recent comps and home improvement projects. Always try to steer the conversation back to the property’s value, rather than its cost. And if it’s not meant to be, that’s OK. Remind your client that everything happens for a reason.
How can new agents keep their excitement in check when negotiating?
Practice being mindful of how you speak and what you say. Remember, less is more. It’s also a good idea to pause and let the other person talk. If you get too flustered and the deal is spiraling, don’t be afraid to ask for help—this is where all those networking events with other agents come in! Listening to other agents swap old horror stories is a great way to learn. If you’re looking for more help as a new agent, check out our Ultimate New Real Estate Agent Checklist.
What are some common pitfalls that agents should avoid in negotiations?
Sometimes agents make mistakes like revealing key details about their client, giving their bottom line (or top line) too early, or just being overly eager to close the deal. And, of course, always check yourself to ensure you’re representing your clients’ best interests, not your own.
Overall, make it a point to listen more than you talk and ask questions that help you figure out what they really need.
Over to You
Have a great negotiation strategy we didn’t cover here? Add your thoughts to the comments below.