Get to the Heart of a Negotiation

In heated moments, compassion can close the sale.

March 1, 2001

Friends of mine recently found themselves stuck in a negotiation that was going nowhere.

They had made an offer on a two-story condo owned by a couple in their 50s. The husband had suffered a severe heart attack and was forced into early retirement. His doctor had advised him to move to a place with no stairs.

My friends, it seems, knew about the seller’s difficult circumstances and, on their agent’s advice, had come in $20,000 under list price--which already was under comparable value.

There was a tepid reaction from the sellers, and my friends and their agent were upset with the sellers because of their lackadaisical “attitude.” The only communication had come from the listing agent, who said his clients felt the buyers were too far from the list price. The sellers had refused to make a counteroffer.

Apparently, the huge discrepancy between the listing price and the offer made the sellers think my friends weren’t serious about their home. My friends needed to start making concessions--no matter how small.

Many negotiators, including my friends’ agent, advise that whoever makes the first concession is at a disadvantage. But this advice can put deals in a deep freeze. My experience is that the first side to make concessions usually ends up in the driver’s seat.

However, because hard feelings were already brewing, I felt there was more to making this deal happen than giving in a bit on price. I decided to do some straight talking with my friends and their agent.

“Carol, how would things be in your home right now if Ron had a heart attack?”

“What a terrible thought, Danielle.”

“Precisely,” I said. “Your whole world would be upside down.

“The sellers you’re dealing with are under a lot of stress. The husband is very young to have had a heart attack, and the last thing he wants to do is retire or move. You, his doctor, and his wife are asking him to do those things.

“You have to become real people to these sellers,” I said. “Either include some pictures of yourselves with a new offer, or look at the house again when the sellers are home.”

A few weeks later, I got a call from Carol. She said a second round of negotiations started with her agent showing pictures of Ron and Carol’s family to the sellers. The agent presented Carol and Ron as the compassionate people they are.

“My people really love your home,” he told the sellers. “They know how tough it must be for you to have to leave it. And, if they get the opportunity to buy your home, they promise to take good care of it. They also understand how difficult it must be to recuperate from heart surgery. Their brother-in-law just went through the same thing.” (A true statement.)

The sellers responded, making a counteroffer about $5,000 under the list price. Then my pals came up $5,000, and a compromise was reached.

Empathy, compassion, and the ability to put buyers in sellers’ shoes and sellers in buyers’ shoes can do more for negotiating and closing a sale than any hard-sell technique. When a person’s principles, ego, or integrity is on the line, there’s more to closing the deal than simply negotiating a price.

Danielle Kennedy is a consultant and speaker on real estate sales and marketing topics. She is the author of three books, How to List and Sell Real Estate,Seven Figure Selling,and Workingmoms.calm: How Smart Women Balance Career and Family.

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