Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

Tips for Dealing With Difficult Sellers

A couple in their late 60s adored the colonial-style house they’d owned for more than 30 years. But after the husband developed muscular dystrophy, they were compelled to move to a condo, selling their beloved property to fund their retirement.

Like many boomers forced to downsize, this couple would have greatly preferred to age in place. In fact, they dragged out the selling process for months, rebuffing potential purchasers who didn’t suit their fancy until they grudgingly accepted an offer from an especially tenacious pair.

Why do many older people let go of a family home only when it’s absolutely imperative?

Many housing experts believe that America -- long known for a high level of geographic mobility -- is fast becoming a nation of nesters. Statistics seem to bear that out. Data from the National Association of Realtors (realtor.org) show that average owners now stay in their homes for more than nine years, a jump from six years before the real estate downturn of 2008.

Todd Teta, a senior official at Attom Data Solutions (attomdata.com), which tracks real estate markets across the country, doesn’t know the couple in this true story. But he says their resistance to moving is understandable.

Teta, who has a background in mortgage lending, says one factor causing ambivalence about moving for boomers is that many older people still have exceptionally low-cost home loans.

“Mortgage rates are on the rise. So why move when your home is almost paid off?” he says.

The reluctance of older home sellers can make it hard for younger purchasers to negotiate their way to ownership of their place, says Tom Early, a longtime real estate broker who works solely with buyers.

“Some older sellers ... assume their property is worth more than it is and only consent to an offer when forced to,” says Early, the former president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (naeba.org).

Here are a few pointers for buyers on dealing with difficult sellers from any generation:

-- Determine how eager the owners are to sell.

How can you find out what’s spurred sellers to put their place on the market? Often, your agent can get answers by simply asking the sellers’ agent direct questions.

There are several reasons some owners may resist selling immediately. Perhaps they want their teenagers to finish high school before moving. Or maybe their custom-built house won’t be done for another seven or eight months.

How can you get less-than-eager sellers to bargain? As Early says, one strategy is to volunteer a late closing date in exchange for a slight price reduction.

-- Consider using a delaying tactic to deal with defiant sellers.

As Early notes, many sellers have their egos tied up with the sale of their property. That can cause them to overplay their hand, even when they have a pressing need to sell. For example, they might make a counterproposal to your first offer with a 24-hour “take it or leave it” provision.

Should you reply to such a challenge on their terms? Not necessarily, says Early. In fact, failing to answer immediately could be an effective way to bring them down to earth on price. He calls this tactic the “walk-away.”

Disappearing from negotiations won’t cause unmotivated sellers to yield on price. But it could prompt motivated sellers to take a serious second look at your latest offer, especially if their property has languished unsold for a lengthy time and they’ve gotten no other bids.

“Psychologically, by taking away their candy for just five or 10 hours longer than they expected, you make them sweat enough to stop taking your interest for granted,” Early says.

-- Realize that some sellers will simply never compromise.

Early, who’s been in the real estate business for several decades, says he can tell immediately when his clients fall in love with a home.

“As soon as they walk into the right house, their eyes light up. They become excited. ... For most people, home selection is a highly emotional thing,” he says.

But what should you do if the owners of a home demand a price you know to be excessive, and all attempts to negotiate seem futile? Then Early recommends you let go of the property and begin seeking another immediately.

“Climb back into the saddle. The odds are that eventually you’ll find an even better house for a fair price,” Early says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at ellenjamesmartin@gmail.com.)