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The best moves for home buyers and sellers

chart_homa.top.gif By Beth Braverman

(Money Magazine) -- Plenty of forces, from overly cautious lenders to inaccurate appraisals, are wrecking real estate deals right now. But one of the biggest roadblocks to getting a house sold these days is the disconnect between buyers and sellers.

In general, sellers have gotten more realistic in pricing their homes than they were right after the housing bubble burst, but agents say that many still don't grasp how much they must concede to close a deal. And buyers are still spraying lowball offers around in hopes that sellers will be desperate enough to bite.

Take such unreasonable expectations, multiply by two, and what do you get? "A standoff," says Glenn Kelman, CEO of real estate brokerage Redfin.

With the busy summer home-sale season drawing to a close, there's little time to waste. Whether you're trying to unload your place or land a new one, follow these dos and don'ts to negotiate the best deal -- fast.

If you're buying

Don't say: "I'll pay 85% of your asking price and not a penny more."

Instead: Look for homes that are fairly priced and make a reasonable offer. "Coming in about 10% below list is a good starting place for negotiations now," says Denver real estate broker Jeff Fogler. Yes, you have the upper hand in most markets, but the average homebuyer is paying only 2.7% below list price (see the chart). Set your expectations accordingly. You can always ask if the seller is willing to bridge a price gap in other ways -- for example, by picking up your closing costs (which can run $7,500 on a $300,000 house).

Don't say: "I haven't put my own place on the market yet."

Instead: List your current home before you start shopping seriously for the next one. Because it takes almost three months to move a house these days, sellers are loath to write home-sales contingencies into purchase contracts. You'll have far more leverage if you've gotten rid of your house before you start negotiating: Sellers know there's less chance of the deal falling apart. (Prequalifying for a mortgage helps too.) What's more, you'll know exactly how much money you can put into your new digs.

Don't say: "This is my dream house."

Instead: Stop imagining the great parties you'll throw there and gird yourself to walk away if the seller won't make reasonable concessions. Your ability to abandon negotiations is your most powerful bargaining chip. Given that plenty of other homes are on the market now, finding another place to love shouldn't be too hard. You might let the seller know that. Nicely.

If you're selling

Don't say: "You're offering how much? Forget you!"

Instead: When bidders lob low-balls at you, thank them for their interest -- and ask that they come back with earnest offers. "If you become offended, enraged, or unreasonable, you've blown any chance at negotiation," says Warwick, R.I., real estate agent Ron Phipps. These days many buyers are just testing you to see how big a discount they can get. Point the bidder to comparable recent sales that support your list price. (Received several super-low offers? Check the comps to make sure your price isn't too high.)

Don't say: "I didn't know the deck was rotting."

Instead: Pay a few hundred dollars to get your house inspected before you put it on the market. Then arrange to make any necessary repairs yourself. (In most states the law requires you to disclose to potential buyers any defects of which you're aware.) "Taking care of any inspection issues upfront helps sellers limit the points that buyers can negotiate on," says Pat Lashinsky, CEO of the national brokerage ZipRealty.

Don't say: "It might take us a while to move out."

Instead: Make sure to tell buyers -- especially those who might have children starting school this month -- that you're willing to scram pronto, if possible. That will help you stand out from any short sales in your area, which may have lower list prices but can take months to close. "If the buyers have a strict time limit, they're going to pay more money to get into a house quickly," says Ellen Klein, a realtor in Rockaway, N.J. More money plus more speed: That's what it's all about.  To top of page

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