Identifying Value in a Negotiation

Good NegotiatiorAll negotiations involve multiple “value” elements. The key to success is to first identify the value elements on each side and then “trade” value elements to reach agreement.

Easier said than done! Why? Because most negotiators don’t spend enough time identifying and truly understanding the value elements. The trading part is easy!

A home buyer and seller were negotiating and after lowering the price somewhat, the seller finally said, “I won’t go any lower.” The buyer asked his agent to find out why the seller wouldn’t go any lower. After several conversations with the listing agent, the reason was uncovered. The seller wouldn’t go any lower because he wanted “bragging rights” for his neighborhood – meaning he wanted to be able to say he had sold at the highest price to date in his neighborhood!

This “value” element was very important to the seller. In a negotiation, you can trade or exchange items of equal value. Understanding how valuable something is becomes a key objective of the skilled negotiator so that equal value can be obtained in the exchange. If the seller truly values his bragging rights (while still being realistic about the true value of the property), then the buyer should ask for something of “equal” value from the seller. For example “My buyer will pay your seller’s price if your seller agrees to a 15-day close.”

You have probably heard that the best time to buy a car is at the end of the month. This is usually because the car salesperson and/or dealer is trying to reach a goal or quota that carries some type of bonus from the manufacturer. Car dealers may even “lose” money on an individual sale because the bonus will more than cover the loss. So if your purchase happens to be key to achieving the bonus, you can negotiate really good terms for yourself!

So how can you identify the other side’s value elements in a negotiation? Try these 3 approaches:

  1. Ask! But first, tell them in general what is important to your side.
    Role modeling the behavior you want from the other side increases the odds that you will get the same behavior in return. As a buyer’s agent you might say to the listing agent, “From my buyer’s perspective, price, closing costs support, and personal property (refrigerator, washer, and dryer) are very important in this deal. What is most important to your seller?” If the listing agent shares something like, “Well, for my seller, price, closing date, and your buyer’s qualifications are key”, then you have a dialogue started where you can continue to exchange information and ask questions to determine the key elements of value.
  2. What if the other side won’t give you any information?
    Suppose the listing agent simply says, “Just submit your offer and we’ll respond based on that.” Then you might try the “self-interest” approach. The buyer’s agent could say something like, “My buyer would like to submit the very best offer to your seller. The more specific you can be about what is really important to your seller, the better the chances of my buyer meeting your seller’s needs.” In essence, you are trying to educate the other side about why it is in their self-interest to share important information – it increases the odds of getting what you want.
  3. “Either/Or” Approach.
    If the other side still won’t open up, try asking simple “either/or” questions to get an indication of what is important. “Would your seller prefer a quicker or longer closing date?” “Would your seller prefer a clean offer or would they entertain an offer with closing cost support for the buyer?” “Would your seller prefer to pay the buyer to do any necessary repairs or does your seller want to handle the repairs on their own?” By narrowing the choices you give the other side, you can focus in on the true value elements.

Sharing your value elements and understanding the other side’s value elements helps establish the basis for a win-win outcome.

Learn more about negotiation skills at Real Estate Institute.


This article was  originally published in an August, 15, 2014 blog post by Real Estate Negotiation Institute.

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