Humanizing the home sale

REThink Real Estate

By Inman News Feed
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Apr. 8, 2010

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REThink Real Estate

Tara-Nicholle Nelson
Inman News

Q: My wife and I recently made an offer to buy our first house. It was pretty low, but only because we just can't afford to go as high as the asking price; we really love the place and think it's probably worth the price. Anyway, the sellers made a counteroffer and sent us an e-mail with their own explanation of how much they loved the house and the neighbors and the area, and telling us all about it. We already knew most of that stuff, but it was really put nicely and reminded us of how much we wanted to live in that area, so we increased our offer as much as we could. Are we crazy?

A: Short answer: No, not crazy.

Longer answer: Apparently you have discovered something that many other participants in the real estate market have forgotten: humanity. Yes, buying a home is a serious business transaction, with major financial implications for your household finances and on a macro level, the economy in general. It behooves you to make wise decisions on the money end of the deal.

However, at its core, real estate is probably the most human of all personal business transactions. Your choice of home deeply impacts every single area of your life -- from who you live with, to what you do for work, to how much you have to work and how you experience your spare time.

But with all the recent market madness, the intense and sometimes desperate negotiating between buyers and sellers, and the constant bombardment of real estate consumers with material about being wary of fraud, negligence or a simple lack of scruples across the bargaining table (no matter which side of the table you happen to find yourself on), real estate deals have taken on almost an adversarial tone.

It doesn't help that, in most places, homes are shown vacant and closing papers are signed by separate parties in separate places. I'd say in about 90 percent of my transactions, the buyer and seller never even meet!

That makes it very easy to think of the seller as an inhuman "other" that exists in the ether and operates only in opposition to your wants and needs, rather than seeing the seller as a real person with hopes, emotions, needs and lives that are just as dramatically impacted by your transaction as yours will be.

And these days, many times the impacts on the seller are not fun -- going through a short sale, at worst, with the resulting damage to credit, and still having to move. Even in the better-case scenarios, many sellers are losing at least some of their initial investment and equity in the home -- almost everyone is selling for less than they expected.

Your ultimate ceiling for what you'd offer on a home should be driven by three elements: (a) the fair market value of the home, as indicated by the recent sales prices of similar, nearby homes; (b) your personal finances and what you have determined you can both qualify for and afford; and (c) how much you want the place and its worth to you, personally.

As long as you are honoring those considerations as your upper price limit for any given home, I'd say it is fine -- even sensible -- for you to decide that you want a place more than you did when you made your initial offer for whatever reason, including the reasons articulated in the sellers' e-mail.

It might be that you found their reasoning persuasive. It might be that their e-mail refreshed your recollection of how much you liked the place and the house, or rendered more vivid your vision of your family's life in the home. It might even be that the e-mail served to humanize the sellers a bit, "un-otherizing" them, if you will, and made you more open to their counter in that way.

Any or all of these things are not crazy -- they are totally OK ways to respond to the content of that e-mail. And it would also be totally OK if the e-mail did little or nothing to move you in your price position. Remember that a fundamental element of the ultimate price you pay for your new home is what the place is worth to you, and only you can be the arbiter of that.

In fact, my experience is that when buyer and seller do make a human-to-human connection like what you're describing, the entire flow and substance of the deal can change for the better.

I've had sellers who met or connected with my buyers leave them valuable appliances, have the place professionally cleaned or even repaired or repainted -- unexpectedly, and above and beyond what was in the contract. Don't count on any perks like that, but I've certainly seen stranger things happen.

Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman's Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Tara is also the Consumer Ambassador and Educator for real estate listings search site Trulia.com. Ask her a real estate question online or visit her Web site, www.rethinkrealestate.com.

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