This weeks BLOG is provided by one of the many Scotwork Alumni, Noel Penrose. If you would like to submit a BLOG for consideration please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I bought a house a while ago. It involved the usual mix of practical and emotional decision-making, hand-wringing, uncertainty and hope that major purchases like this bring on. It took three months from start to finish, which seems like a reasonable timeframe. What made it a very interesting experience was the way the negotiation was conducted.
We had decided on area and registered with several agents, received lots of potential property details, fixed a date to go see selected houses hoping to find our new home. The terms used here are relevant. We began looking at properties, refined to houses we liked and settled on a home.
On the appointed day, we had filled the diary with six viewings, but we arrived into the area early and so we strolled in the town, looking into estate agents windows as we had time to spare. We were surprised to see a property in the window of an agent we had registered with that was not on our list, but seemed to fit our criteria exactly, so we walked in and asked about it.
"This cottage only came onto the market yesterday, so details will be in the post to you" said the agent. "Can we see it today?" I asked. "It's been very popular already", was the response, "but there is a slot at 4pm. The owners aren't at home for viewings, so Charles, our main agent, will be conducting all visits today."
So we booked the 4pm slot, juggled our other viewings around to fit it in and so began our day looking at stranger's houses.
We arrived at the cottage just before 4pm and witnessed the man we would be introduced to as Charles saying goodbye to another interested couple as they got into their expensive car. We loved the place. The location, the style, the room sizes, the compact garden. We felt like the third baby bear, it was just right. "Has there been much interest?", I asked Charles innocently.
"Oh yes", he replied, "very popular indeed. Everyone seems to really like it." "what do you suggest we do if we are keen?" I asked. "Make an early strong offer" he suggested.
Which is not what I did.
Instead, I decided to find out a bit more information, and tried to tilt the playing field in my favour a little in the face of seemingly overwhelming competition.
Now, my wife hates this part of the story. She feels uncomfortable not following process and protocol, but I needed to make a connection with the owners if we were to stand a chance of winning here. So we went into the town, had dinner and then we came back to the cottage.
As I had hoped, lights were on with a small car parked in the driveway. So I took my youngest by the hand, rang the bell and when a kind old lady answered the door I explained that we had been one of the many couples who had viewed today. I told her that we loved her home, that we were very excited about making it our home and that my daughter, Olivia, had picked out her room and was already deciding which colour to paint the walls. Olivia smiled sweetly and the lady asked her a question. The old lady's husband joined her and I then apologized for disturbing them, but had wanted to make a personal thank you for allowing us to see their home. I ended the conversation by confirming that we would be making an offer on Monday and left my business card.
I waited until 2pm on Monday to call the agent. "What is the status on the cottage?" I asked. "We have had several offers", he replied, "two at the asking price". "I would also like to make an offer" I said and gave him a number that was £5,000 below the asking price. "You don't understand" he said, flustered. "you have to at least match the asking price". But I didn't have to follow the protocol, so I reminded him that he was the agent and his job was to submit my offer to the owners.
A short while later, Charles called back. "You went to see them, didn't you" he said, almost accusingly. I agreed that I had done, and he told me that the owners liked us and that they would agree to sell to us 'if you can get closer to the asking price'.
With those magic words, we were moving forward. Charles used the signaling word 'if', making a conditional acceptance and a second signal in the word 'closer' told me I didn't have to match the asking price, only reduce the gap.
With a little haggling, we fixed a price that was £2,000 below asking price, agreed timing and a few other conditions and paid the deposit. Charles was not looking forward to telling the higher bidders that they were unsuccessful.
My wife sent a nice card to the couple thanking them and telling them how much we were looking forward to our move. We found out from them during the completion and exchange process that they had been keen to sell their home to someone who would respect it as a home. Our visit, with Olivia, had connected at an emotional level much stronger than the entirely practical determinants of exactly meeting the asking price. They didn't need the money, they were moving to a cheaper location to be nearer to their grandchildren, but they wanted to feel their home was in safe hands.
There were many lessons I learned from this process; don't be bound by the protocol or the process, think and act creatively, use soft methods of influence to develop empathy and endear yourself to people, have confidence in your position, don't take disintermediation at face value, read the signals in communication - and find a way to tilt the playing field in your favour.
And be lucky! I certainly was.