"How much is this?" I asked the pretty antique vendor as I eyed the small Stoneware pitcher on her table at the Alameda Flea Market last Sunday. "Twenty-eight dollars" she politely answered. "Hmmm, can you do better?" I inquired as I carefully looked it over. "What were you thinking?" she said. "Eighteen?" I replied. "How about twenty-three?" she offered. "How about twenty?" I responded. "That's a hard size to find," she countered, "you'd pay much more for it in a shop." (very true) "I'll let it go for twenty-one." This is when I PAUSE FOR DRAMATIC EFFECT. "OK, I'll take it," I said with a smile (certain I'd just gotten a very good deal). "Terrific," she said (knowing she'd made a few dollars on the sale). "Would you like that wrapped up?" "Yes, please and thank you." Another successful and happy transaction!
Back and forth negotiation at the flea market isn't the exception, it's the norm! There's rarely a sale that doesn't engage in this banter before settling on a mutually satisfactory price. Buyers are looking for the "find" and sellers are interested in making a profit. It's the well-practiced give and take of human interaction. Not surprisingly, experienced vendors are far more likely to become truly competitive by the end of the day - then they are at the beginning.
I'm an early bird by nature and habit-up with the moon and at the front gate with the rest of the flea market junkies before the crack of dawn. For me, there's a significant trade-off. Experience has taught me that the best finds go early . . . the best deals; however, come late! The same is true for real estate. Homes that are highly coveted, quickly sell for close to or above their asking price while homes that languish on the market for awhile, tend to get discounted over time. (If you are looking for the "deal," hone in on those properties that have been largely ignored. Those sellers are likely to be the most flexible as time goes on.) With dramatic changes in the marketplace over the last few years, buyers are quickly becoming much better versed in the concept of offering less than list. Indeed, buyers expect to negotiate on price!
Sellers, on the other hand, are still a bit slow to embrace this Brave New World and tend to object to a realignment of value. Unlike a few years ago, buyers are requesting time to fully inspect their purchase before removing ALL of their contingencies. While a buyer's initial offer price should ideally, factor in any known defects, sometimes a buyer's inspection will disclose new discovery previously unavailable or perhaps, unknown which may give a buyer PAUSE before moving ahead.
When that happens, it may be reasonable to expect some push back from the buyers with respect to the costs associated with new discovery. Expect buyers to seek "to perfect" the deal. This can come in the form of credits to the buyer for the work required or a reevaluation of the purchase price altogether. Either way, it isn't personal - it's business. With some quantifiable discussion, you're very likely to find a middle ground that achieves the goal for both parties.
Whether negotiating with a flea market vendor, a colleague, an agent, a client (or a spouse) I find that the best transactions come with well-intentioned and reasonable give and take. When both sides have left the negotiation table having given and having gained what's truly important to them, you're much more likely to have a happy ending - even if something unexpected should come up after the close of escrow! When it's a win-win for everyone involved, you can look forward to a happy and successful transaction! (The Alamdea Flea Market takes place on the first Sunday of every month at the old naval base in Alameda. Start time: sun up!)
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 12 years and has published more than 500 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.