In today’s climate, putting together a real estate transaction just got harder than it used to be. Having loads of patience is an understatement, especially for a profession that needs everything done like yesterday (and it never usually is, of course).
As the market shifts, patience, preparation, planning and managing expectations are key. There are things within our control as agents as well as buyers and sellers but numerous things that are not. It is important to understand what is and isn’t and by whom.
Here are ten essential elements for negotiating in today’s market:
Transitioning from the hyper-urgent pace several months ago to this same time last year to more of a “wait and see” cadence can be challenging. Buyers are not making instant decisions like they used to.
They may want to return to see a home they are in the midst of negotiating on before countering or accepting a seller’s offer. There may be longer times for responses in between offers and counter offers.
Demanding short timeframes from a buyer for a response to an offer or trying to create urgency where a listing comes on the market and is available to only see for two or three days with offers due by a certain time on the same or following day typically won’t work in this market and might result in the buyer abandoning interest entirely.
Things are not necessarily going to come together and go according to contract. While this can happen in any market, in tight markets, agents and buyers are afraid to muddy the waters for the slightest for fear of losing the property.
In a slower market, new requests may be made by buyers along the way. While it can be frustrating for a seller because those things weren’t agreed to in the first place, it is important to remain flexible and adaptable and find a way to work with or at least manage the request.
It is now a bit of an “unofficial” buyer’s revenge market where they have the power to affect the seller’s outcome vs. vice versa.
Real estate is 95 percent solving problems to move buyers and sellers forward. The current climate can be full of unexpected problems from rapidly changing interest rates, an appraised value coming in lower than the contract sales price, underwriters closely scrutinizing appraisals and asking for specific clarifications and/or commentary, explanation of certain documents in a borrower’s file, unexpected delays, etc.
It is important to go into a transaction preparing, anticipating and planning for problems and knowing what you can solve and what things may be beyond your control, such as with an underwriter or appraiser.
The ability to be proactive
If you can do some “pre-flight” preparation with a buyer or seller before they write an offer or go under contract, this may save a transaction from falling apart later. This means making sure a buyer is fully underwritten and approved with a lender (not just pre-approved), which may catch potential problems or discrepancies with their financial picture upfront that can be addressed.
Sellers should be counseled to strongly consider having a pre-listing inspection done before putting their home on the market and making all necessary repairs, particularly if the home is older and hasn’t been updated or hasn’t had a lot of things replaced, because you never know what may spook the buyer in a slower market.
Given higher interest rates, they may feel overwhelmed at the potential costs of things needing repair and replacement on a house in addition to their mortgage payment and ultimately walk away.
In a shifting market, you can’t be proactive enough because the slightest thing may derail the transaction for the buyer or seller.
Great lender network
Speaking of being pre-approved, the wrong lender can derail your entire deal. It is critically important to vet the buyer’s lender because the wrong match can derail a deal.
Not all lenders are well suited for a buyer’s situation. If the buyer has more of a complex financial picture (and honestly, who doesn’t these days), such as being self-employed, etc., picking a lender based on who offers the lowest rate is not necessarily the smartest move.
The buyer needs to be counseled in regard to their situation as to what kind of lender would be best suited to their situation. Of course, the buyer is always tempted to go for the lender offering the lowest interest rate, but it is important for them to understand the fine print behind that rate and who is actually doing the loan.
Is the lender they are talking to the actual bank making the loan, or are they a correspondent lender or broker? Who will ultimately be handling the processing and underwriting of that loan? Because control (or lack thereof) is key. Is there a large origination fee or other fees/points being paid to make up for that?
An understanding of the numbers
As interest rates continue to rise, concessions towards a buyer’s closing costs and/or prepaids or to use towards an interest rate buydown become critical.
If you are representing a seller, understand what a mortgage payment looks like on a home you are selling with the current rates and how an interest rate buydown can positively impact the monthly payment for a potential buyer.
It is important to be able to educate buyers not to focus on what current interest rates are but on the payment and what kind of concessions can be implemented to help offset the cost of a higher interest rate.
Sellers need to understand this information as well so they can use these tools during a negotiation as well as a way to attract buyers to their listing. In a shifting market, buyers care less about shiny pictures with lists of upgrades and more about the dollars and sense of what it is ultimately going to cost for them to own that home.
The market can dramatically change in a week or two. After all that is involved in getting a property under contract in today’s climate, a home may be on the market for a couple of weeks only to fall back out of contract, and by that point, it is a completely different market.
The price that was initially negotiated with the first buyer to go under contract may not be with a future buyer if something falls through. As a listing agent, it is critically important to negotiate for shorter but reasonable timelines to complete inspections, the appraisal and loan approval so that there is some certainty about the process.
In other words, if the deal is going to get killed, it is best to do so early on so you don’t tie up the home for several weeks on end. It is important to proactively manage the process and have frequent contact with the lender once a property is under contract.
Managing expectations with buyers
Agents need to work with the buyer’s lender to make sure they understand when an interest rate is locked in and how long that rate lock is good for. Many buyers falsely think a discussion of interest rates with the lender means they will be getting that rate.
Until there is a fully executed contract, the lender cannot lock the rate. Both agent and lender need to have conversations with the buyer as to the importance of staying within all contract timeframes and paying for the appraisal as soon as the buyer goes under contract, and submitting any required documentation requested by the lender ASAP.
ASAP means exactly that, not in a few days when they can get to it or when they come back from vacation. Buyers often hesitate to pay for the appraisal fee or sometimes delay in getting the lender-required documentation as they are unsure about what they are providing.
Delays matter and can completely derail a deal. Buyers need to understand that every day off the market for a seller can have negative consequences in this market, so they need to be mindful of that as they move through the transaction.
Being prepared for the unknown
A real estate transaction has numerous twists and turns and unexpected curveballs under normal circumstances. In a changing market with rising interest rates, they can be even more so.
Sellers need to be prepared for the buyer getting cold feet during their “due diligence” period, perhaps because of having higher mortgage payments than what they really wanted. Seemingly minor repair issues could spook them, and they start to think that where there’s smoke, there is a fire as far as buying a money pit.
Appraisals may start to come in at less than the contract sales price. A buyer may fall short of the loan amount as a result of last-minute verification by an underwriter of their required documents.
This means there could be a request for a price reduction, a larger concession or the seller doing a combination of both and making repairs. Nothing is off the table in a changing market, and so the seller has to weigh the risk of making the “bird in the hand” work vs. taking a chance on what could be with another buyer.
Willingness to pull out all the stops
When negotiating during a shift, this is not the time to be difficult or reject seemingly “low offers” and not counter them. You don’t know when the next opportunity will present itself and what that will look like. The best offer is the one in hand.
While offers will seem more like trying to make lemonade out of lemons vs. having the cake with tons of frosting, it requires creativity, persistence and definitely more give on the part of a seller than they have in the past.
All markets are snapshots in time, and while sellers could name their price, terms and make whatever demands they wanted, that time has come to an end. We are now in a climate of much more give and take, and ultimately, that is what it will require of buyers and sellers to make a transaction work.
Emotions can run high during a shift, as any little thing can throw off how a buyer or seller feels about the market and their transaction. Suddenly it’s not an “all good” outlook anymore.
Managing these emotions of buyers and sellers requires a tremendous amount of skill and patience, but also the ability to put things in perspective and see the bigger picture. The last two years in real estate were like a party that just kept going.
But, like anything, all good things do come to an end and change and morph into a different time. We are in a new normal, and while it may seem like the sky is falling, client expectations need a realignment as to what the “new normal” is.
The gains in equity over the last few years were nothing short of stellar, but it is important to remember that we experienced a tremendous run-up in an extremely compressed period of time that was not normal.
Interest rates were never supposed to be as low as they were had the pandemic never happened. Like all change, it takes some time to adjust.
However, there are always tools in the toolbox as a way to move through this period, and now, more than ever, it is critically important to understand the financing tools available to make buying real estate more affordable, especially in a more negotiable market.