"Eleven, 11, 11 . . . (Bueler, Bueler . . .) 12, 13 . . . " I sat at the Berkeley Planning Department last week waiting patiently for number 17 to be called. Jumping the line, a busy young couple hurriedly rushed in and ran to an open window. Without missing a beat - the desk clerk said. "Excuse me, there are people waiting ahead of you." "But WE just need this one thing!" they insistently implored. Scanning the room (her patience slightly tested) she pointed to the rest of us and deadpanned, "So do they. Now take a number."
Thank you! I wanted to applaud her (and that's not how I typically feel about city employees). Experience has taught her that everybody has needs waiting to be met and they are equally important in turn.
Ain't that the truth? Whether working with buyers or sellers, each has an agenda that they feel should receive immediate satisfaction. Of course, your needs should take priority. (Of course they should!) These are important decisions. I know you come first, but remember that the other side might have needs that are important to them as well. To put it ever so gently - not - "Take a number!"
Everyone has a goal; a truly pressing and often time-sensitive objective they seek. That's the nature of the beast. Figuring out what that is and how to get there without polarizing the other party is the art of negotiation. The best agents know how to keep their clients focused on the end result instead of getting mired in the sometimes challenging, here and now. And admittedly, negotiations can turn tough on occasion. While both parties want to transfer ownership, understandably the seller and the buyer don't always agree on just how to get there gracefully (and sometimes, their agents don't either).
Here's the good and bad news. The current marketplace neither favors nor rewards Buyers more than Sellers (or Sellers more than Buyers) which means that both parties are in a position to negotiate for what they want - and do! Furthermore, they should. Despite the fact that this is your home, this is a business transaction first and foremost. "It's not personal - it's business."
This bears repeating: "it's not personal, it's business" and as such, you should expect some lively negotiations along the way. Just keep in mind that although you may ask, there are no guarantees that you will receive ALL, part or any of your requests. (Sounds a little like my marriage come to think of it.) Sometimes you will come to a meeting of the minds quickly and sometimes slowly; requiring protracted discourse, lengthy give and take, and painful tit for tat (no giggling please). In other words, roll with the punches. It is very likely you will be asked for some concessions along the way (and that you will in turn, do the asking).
Above all, don't personalize it. Even when we believe we have all the pertinent facts and have asked the right questions prior to making an offer, to quote the late great Paul Harvey, we rarely know or fully understand "the rest of the story." Has there been a death in the family? An impending divorce? A loss of income? Is this move being met with excitement or deep regret?
If we avoid making assumptions, the negotiations stay more easily on track and one's feelings tend to get hurt a whole lot less. (While unavoidably human, 'feelings' don't contribute constructively to the process - unless they are emphatically positive.)
Now here's the really tough part. Even when the other side is making demands that feel "unfair," I'm going to ask you to take the high road and be "nice."
Because I believe in being nice. It may not sound like the shrewdest business advice I have ever given, but trust me, civility is, in fact, the smartest course of action - especially in business! Or as my wise mother put it, "You get more flies with honey."
If we all go into a transaction with good intentions, real WILLINGNESS, integrity, a lack of assumptions and a just little bit of well-placed kindness and compassion - the resulting outcome is bound to be much more satisfying for everybody involved.
"Fifteen, 16, 17." (FINALLY!) "Here I am!" I said.
"Have you got your number? Great. How can I help you?"
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 17 years and has published more than 650 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.