How to Negotiate With Home Buyers

Here's what to look for when the offers come rolling in.

Tension between a buyer and seller is inevitable. A buyer wants the most house for his money; a seller wants the most money for his house.

If you've employed an agent to represent only you, rely on this professional to direct events toward a satisfactory conclusion. If you are selling on your own, consider hiring an attorney or agent (acting as a real estate consultant) to help with negotiations; alternatively, brush up on basic aspects of the art when you hang out the "for sale" sign.

Do's and Don'ts

All negotiating should be done in writing, not orally.

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Be careful not to react to trial balloons the buyer sends up hoping to discover your bottom-line price and other terms.

Don't feel you must commit to the first offer presented, particularly when it's below your expectations.

Do remain confident. You've priced your home properly and it's competitive with other houses on the market, so hang tight.

On the other hand, don't disregard a good offer just because it's the first or second one you receive. Early contracts on a well-priced house are usually submitted by the most serious, well-qualified buyers -- people who know their own needs and resources and who have studied the market carefully. A reasonable offer from such a prospect is worth serious consideration and probably a counteroffer from you.

Don't be overly impressed by a large earnest-money deposit -- it doesn't automatically cement a contract. Most offers contain language that makes it likely such deposits will ultimately be returned to their offerers if a deal doesn't go through.

Do look for other signs -- contractual and psychological -- as evidence of a buyer's serious intentions.

Do examine each contingency. Beware of the contract that binds only you. Getting a seller to accept an offer that nails down the price and terms but leaves the buyer free to escape through any number of clauses is a perennially favorite buyer strategy.

Once a contract offer passes your preliminary review and becomes a candidate for acceptance, it should be reviewed by your attorney or be made contingent on that review.