By Ross Wilson

“Negotiation, in the classic diplomatic sense, assumes parties more anxious to agree than to disagree.” – Dean Acheson  

Over the years, I’ve witnessed countless offer presentation techniques. Many were unprofessional, boring, disorganized, frustrating, inefficient, dumb and alas, sometimes hostile. A distinct lack of formal training is clearly evident in what is arguably our most important direct income-generating activity. Every time you find yourself in front of a client, be they your own or a competitor’s, for durable success, you must make every presentation moment count. And no moments lead more directly to earning commission than during an offer negotiation.



Negotiation is truly an art form. In our industry, as in any other, such skills vary considerably from superb to abysmal. As clearly demonstrated by the industry’s mediocre average income, in my experience, many agents are not much more than couriers and order takers. I’ve met shoe salesman with presentation skills superior to those of many realty agents. It’s no small wonder that a minority monopolize the majority of the business.

When presenting an offer, be sensitive to the moods and needs of everyone around the table, including the other agent. See things not only from your own perspective, but also from theirs. Now and again, take the time to step into their shoes for a few moments. Being narcissistic, blatantly aggressive and unreasonably demanding usually fails to make the sale. Haggling happens and emotions flare, but you’ll fare better with a scalpel than with a machete; even better if the scalpel is wrapped in velvet. Maintain your calm, your centre and be grounded. Focus. Do not permit any negative energy from the other parties to affect your serenity. If you do, you’ll only be feeding theirs. Witness the events, but do not lose yourself in them. Be alert, aware and think before you speak. Make a respectful connection with the parties and your dance is more likely to conclude smoothly and successfully.

Nowadays, it’s becoming common practice for listing agents to refuse the buyer’s rep the opportunity to personally participate in the presentation. They insist that offers be faxed or emailed. In my opinion, that’s a mistake – a big one.

These listers may have duped themselves into believing they’re protecting their sellers from the mysterious pressure tactics of big bad buyer agents. Or they’re heavily relying on technology and totally discounting the human element. Or they’re attempting to save themselves time and effort by circumventing a proven process that’s been around since before they were born. Or they see the buyer rep as a mere courier and would relegate them to solitary confinement anyway while they privately consult with their seller. Whatever their faulty reasoning, unless someone can convince me otherwise, they’re doing their sellers a serious disservice.

Having both reps present increases the overall odds of a successful negotiation. The listing agent enjoys the good fortune of being able to ask questions about the buyer and their offer and to have the seller hear the answers – unfiltered – directly from the buyer’s agent. And it allows the buyer’s agent a fair opportunity to professionally plead their client’s case. Prior to signing back the offer, to test the waters, the seller’s rep can ask the buyer agent to call their client. In other words, it’s a great opportunity to negotiate terms and to avoid having to make unilateral decisions in a vacuum.

If you intend to help your seller make the smartest decision, information is imperative. How the buyer agent responds – verbally and nonverbally – can speak volumes. You could ask questions by phone. But asking strategic questions face to face presents the valuable opportunity to witness and interpret body language, voice intonations and nuance which, in turn, allows you to more competently advise your seller. You get the chance to dance, to develop a feeling about the buyer, and to discuss various strategic counter-offer options.

Imagine for a moment what would happen in a union/management grievance meeting without a representative from each side sitting at the table; not much chance of success. Without the buyer agent in attendance, your seller misses the chance to express themselves to someone who could perhaps directly influence the buyer. With only the listing agent present, there’s no repartee, no professional jousting between the two sides. With polar opposite positions, your seller could push – often unreasonably – with no resistance. In my opinion, that’s not negotiation – it’s demanding.

In my next column of this series on offer negotiation, I address the steps involved in what proved for me to be an effective personal offer presentation style.

40 COMMENTS

  1. Every inexperienced listing agent or any who don’t sell at least 12 homes a year had better fear a highly skilled and expert Buyer’s Agent. A Buyer’s Agent sole role is to represent the interests of their Buyers and that means getting them the best home at the lowest price possible. Market Value ended in 1995 after all.

    A skilled Buyer’s Agent has been trained to study the entire room and understands in most cases the Listing Agent is hungry for a commission and as real estate stats reveal will actually only sell one home in an entire year. Now imagine someone who has negotiated possibly 100s or 1000s of transactions competing against a Listing Agent who hasn’t written a deal in months or maybe a year or more.

    The Co-Operative Listing Service ended in 1995 and in Ontario was wiped out in 2002 as REBBA became law. The old days when the entire industry was an Exclusively Seller Interests only business passed but sadly now 25 years later the old myths and beliefs dominate discussions in brokerage offices daily.

    Go ahead invite me to the table. I sincerely hope you have taken years of training and have practiced your skill negotiating 100s or 1000s of times at someone’s kitchen table because if you haven’t you can trust me I know when your last sale and your last 10 sales were recorded. I know exactly how much your owner paid for their home and how big their remaining mortgage is. I know which schools your owners clients attend and what sports they play which lets me start to test how low they will go on their home.

    Most agents are less than 15 years in the business. They have never worked a market where only one home in four listed on the MLS sell. Most older and experienced agents are retiring knowing how a correcting housing market is not something they want to travel this late in life after reaping great financial rewards these last 7 years.

    Go ahead invite me to the table. I welcome the opportunity to test and build my skills even more. Go ahead drink that fairy dust and Koolaid they sell you to keep you renting a desk and earning less than minimum wage. Go ahead…..I pray for my Buyer clients you do.

    • Thanks for your comments, Nelson. I’m glad to hear there are still skilled buyer reps out there. However, I suggest that you may be exaggerating, at least a bit, the foreknowledge you’re able to acquire prior to an offer negotiation. It’s certainly good to be effectively prepared to represent your clients to the best of your ability.

      I agree with you that an experienced buyer rep can outperform a newby listing agent and end up winning the day, so to speak. And since our industry decries an extremely high attrition rate, the odds of facing an inexperienced agent for the seller are regrettably very high.

      In my book, The Happy Agent, I encourage registrants to learn, learn, learn. And I share all of the ethical techniques and methodologies I used during my highly successful 4+ decade career. Thanks again for your contribution.

  2. I don’t understand something from the answers, I see agents talking about the chance of a buyer’s agent to manipulate the seller, based on the their skills or experience. Let’s say John is the buyer’s agent and I am the listing agent for a house listed at $400k and the offer is for $360k. The seller doesn’t want to lower the price but John is the best agent ever and convince them to counter for $365 and promise that the buyer will accept that counter. He gets the counter but the buyer doesn’t accept it. Under what authority worked John asking for a particular number and is John anyhow liable for damages in this situation?
    In the same time, at the offer presentation the listing agent has the control and is the one asking the questions, the interaction with the seller is limited.
    As seller or listing agent I want to be able to talk with the listing agent some details of the offer, to get to know more about the buyer and especially if there is anything that should be changed, like closing time or maybe deposit.
    In the same scenario I am John and my offer is $350k even if the listing is $400k but maybe all the comparable homes are around $380k and they look better but the listing agent is desperate, he promised them a higher value just to get the listing and now he can’t tell them the house is not worth that price. Is it fair for the seller to be refrained from any other opinion or should he have the possibility to ask why the offer is so low, on what base so he can understand better the situation?

    • Thanks for your comments, Dan. I feel that you may have misunderstood some of the comments in this string. Negotiation is not about manipulation of a seller or a buyer. It’s about the art of negotiation. It’s about bringing 2 parties together who have in common the desire to agree, to reach a mutually acceptable agreement. I’ve met very few realty agents who I’d consider strong negotiators. In my experience, many are either “order takers/couriers” or pushy “demanders”.

      I suggest that you might enjoy reading the chapter on negotiation in my book, The Happy Agent. It’s available at several local real estate board stores or at Amazon or http://www.realty-voice.com.

  3. A well written article. I believe in the personal presentation and have won many multiple offer presentations by showing up and in some cases insisting that I be able to present my client’s offer in person. I feel that I lose complete control of the offer once it leaves my possession and that I am not able to fulfill all my fiduciary obligations to my client.

    • Thanks, Doris. Glad we agree, and that there are others of my ilk still out there. You might enjoy my book, The Happy Agent – Finding Harmony With a Thriving Realty Career and an Enriched Personal Life. It’s available at several local real estate board stores as well as Amazon (where it was recently awarded #1 Best Seller status). It can also be acquired via my website http://www.Realty-Voice.com. Thanks again.

  4. Thank you Ross for an excellent and badly needed article. As I’m approaching 50 years in the business involving sales, branch management, Regional management of a sales division with 1150 sales people, and involvement in training of a sales force of 4500, I have seen many changes in this business, unfortunately many of them are not for the better. As you explained, many of the older methods were much better for the clients and the salespeople involved. We never used to entrust the offer presentation to anyone else. Keep up the good work.

    • Thanks, Mike. I’m honoured to have the support of someone with your extensive history and experience. Though I’m no longer active in the business as a registrant, I continue to write about it. My 2 daughters have continued successfully in my footsteps as The Wilson Sisters in Toronto. They were young babies when I began my career, and as a result, learned by osmosis how to do the business intelligently and ethically. And they’ve made me a proud papa. You might enjoy my book, The Happy Agent – Finding Harmony With a Thriving Realty Career and an Enriched Personal Life. It’s available at several local real estate board stores as well as Amazon and via my own website http://www.realty-voice.com. Thanks again.

  5. Thanks, Carolyne. As always, I appreciate your comments and your support in buying my book, The Happy Agent. I believe we agree as usual.

  6. While there are arguments for both sides, as likely there should be based on fiduciary duties, we’ve really encourage our sales reps and brokers to be at the table whenever possible, not to “out out maneuver the listing agent” or to “read the body language of Seller” to seek advantage for the buyer, but to personalize the Buyer to the Seller and to answer questions that the Seller may have concerning the contract that the Buyers Representative has brought forward. I can personally attest that as a Broker of Record I have been involved in numerous multiple offers whereby deals that are close to being identical have gone to those Buyer Reps in attendance as they are available to answer questions about their Buyer’s offer that help me advise the Seller which offer to consider based on the answers I get. Knowing this,shouldn’t you (Buyer Rep) be in attendance? Shouldn’t I (Seller Rep) allow you to be there? Quite frankly, in these circumstances, both are better served! If we eliminate the “personable process” out of our business, people will seek other alternatives than using a Realtor.

    • Thanks, Frank. I believe you and I may be cut mostly from the same fundamental cloth. The real estate business is not about selling sticks and bricks. It’s about bringing people together who want to reach an agreement. We’re facilitators. I’ve no doubt that you’d enjoy my book, The Happy Agent, available at several local real estate board stores as well as Amazon. Thanks again.

    • Thanks, Jerry. And, of course, you may share it. If possible, however, I’d appreciate the inclusion of the title and even a sales link to my book, The Happy Agent, on Amazon.

  7. Ross, I agree 100%. Perfect advice. I have taught that for over 40 years. If anyone wants a good strategy and language for presenting an offer to a seller, read Chapter 1 in my book, “List More. Sell More.” The chapter is titled, “Could A Million Dollars be Slipping Through Your Fingers?”
    If anyone wants it, I will e-mail a copy of the Chapter. Just e-mail me at [email protected] and request it,

    • Hey Jerry: I address the subject of the art of negotiation in chapter 24 of my own book, The Happy Agent. It’s available at several local real estate board stores as well as Amazon and my website http://www.realty-voice.com. Thanks for your contribution to not only this column, but also to your years of industry professionalism. R

  8. Having been doing this for 40 years I totally disagree with a Buyers rep. being at the table. They get to read your Sellers body language and hear what they may blurt out and say.; they can become rude and hostile when things are not going their way or they may just say something stupid that builds a wall to negotiations with the Seller. I have trained hundreds of realtors and I have taught them all to keep a Buyers rep out of the negotiations with your Seller. I am not going to list the numerous bizarre scenarios that I have experienced with Realtors when their commission is on the line and while some should common sense and maturity, the majority were focused on their commission and not their Client.

    • Thanks for your comments, Tony. Obviously, your apparent success has served you well. I guess all I can suggest is let’s just agree to disagree. My experience throughout a highly successful 44-year career, during which I also trained and mentored countless sales reps, convinced me of the merits of permitting buyer reps at the table, along with well-coached sellers who normally trusted me implicitly. On one point I feel can indeed agree. And that is the abundance of people in the business who put money ahead of people. You’ve no doubt met many yourself. Let’s hope that the current market correction once again separates the wheat from the chaff as it did in the early 1990’s..

      • I too hope that the realtor numbers get culled. My last job was managing 355 realtors over a year ago and most of them were in it because they thought it was easy and for a while it was. Professional and experienced realtors will survive this market but it so inexpensive to be a realtor I am not sure how many will get out. With your experience I would definitely not let you into an offer presentation. That is a complement and not derogatory in anyway!

  9. If there were to be a written counter offer from the sellers would the seller’s agent also be allowed to have direct face to face access with the buyers in order to present that counter offer? Fair is Fair.

    • Thanks for your question, Gord. I suppose that would be fair, provided the seller’s agent saw sufficient benefit to make the request. It would certainly be an atypical situation, though. In my experience as a seller representative, I’ve never sought the opportunity to present to another agent’s buyer. Instead, I relied heavily on my probing questions, analysis and the language, both verbal and physical, of the buyer’s agent. And after a private client consultation, I advised my sellers accordingly. I must say, in all modesty, that it was an extremely rare event when one of my seller counter-offers was rejected.

  10. I think you’re about half right, depending on your agenda. You are more likely to conclude a transaction but you’re also more likely to leave (mostly your sellers) money on the table. My job sitting across from you as a buyers agent is to do the best for my buyer. By using the (unprotected) body language of the non-negotiator seller, better preparation (or at least more recent) and carefully prepared questions, aided by both your social media accounts, to separate you from your client – chances are I can lead you to losing control of the conversation. This has been made easier in recent years by the additions of teams, where I get a choice of inexperienced Realtors or “closers” who have no knowledge of or sensitivity too the sellers. Also, being a good “listing agent” is no preparation for dealing with a professional negotiator. IMHO, your tactic is very risky.

    • Totally agree with you Richard Lee. I see no advantage for my seller by having the buyer’s agent presenting their client’s offer face to face. I am working for the seller and would advise them that I can talk to the buyer’s agent if we have any questions regarding the offer, or the buyers, without stifling our conversation or giving away any possible negotiating tactics my seller might want to consider.

    • Thanks for your contribution, Richard. In my defense, I believe I can boast that I never had a disappointed seller. And rarely did I lose them in later years. As a listing broker, I always kept my sellers informed about market conditions, recent sales and comparable properties listed before and after I listed their properties. In other words, I regularly prepared updated CMA’s. Thus, the chances of leaving my clients’ money on the table, IMHO, never happened. I appreciate that you’ve been successful in your career, probably due in no small part to your expertise and professionalism. But sadly, I have found that the vast majority of registrants, at least the half that produce fewer than a half dozen transactions annually, and whom quit the business during their first 5 years, don’t seem to possess the skills necessary to successfully conclude negotiations on their client’s behalf. I believe I’d have enjoyed jousting with you across the table. :-) I invite you to check out my book, The Happy Agent.

        • It’s not that there’d be no benefit, Tony, with meeting with your buyer clients to present a counter-offer. It’s simply that I felt the benefit was insufficient to break with tradition. Meeting with the buyer’s agent was always sufficient for me to determine a course of action for my seller. Buyer agents usually talk too much, both verbally and non-verbally.

          • I agree that most Realtors say to much and it does not matter whether they represent either party. Unfortunately most realtors are too busy looking at their commission instead of doing what we really get paid for which is to be professional negotiators! Your article got a great discussion going congrats! Tony

      • For the record, I believe your introspection on the art of negotiation would make you a formidable negotiator. I still hold that the presence of the seller at an offer presentation would hinder your negotiating skills rather than help them. Your velvet scalpel is s double edged sword.

        • Perhaps that would depend on how well my seller client was coached and prepared prior to the arrival of the buyer’s agent. As I’ve said in my book, an offer presentation may be my client’s party, but I’m the host in control. Having said this, there’s always a double edge.

  11. This is the absolute best, well articulated article l’ve read in a long time…kudos to Ross who has presented compelling reasons for sitting at the table and negotiating a win/win for both sides.

    • Thanks, Marlene. You might enjoy reading my book, The Happy Agent. It’s available at several local real estate board stores as well as Amazon. Thanks again.

  12. What a well written and honest view of what we are actually getting paid to do! I believe that in order to earn our commission it is our duty to present all offers in person. The biggest issue is with electronic signatures most Realtors don’t ever leave their homes anymore except to show the properties.

    • Thanks, Rosemarie, for your comments. I agree that for many, the real estate business has become more virtual. I’ve always believed that we were not in the realty business, but the people business. However, unfortunately, many registrants seem to have forgotten this truth, or never knew it. I found much success by treating it as a belly-to-belly business. And it was for this reason that my practice was primarily referral-based. My returning clients wanted to hire me, no matter with whom I was registered. I was their “friend in the business”. You might enjoy reading my book, The Happy Agent. It’s available at several local real estate board stores as well as Amazon. Thanks again.

  13. I agree with Ron but technology has made negotiations and personal contact between sellers, buyers and agents, a thing of the past.Even, the witnessing the signatures became obsolite when the docusign took over. Real Estate agents or sale reps will also be soon a thing of the past.Who needs a Realtor? The sad part is that the Real Estate Boards have supported thiese views of the public.

    • Thanks, Luisa, for your comments. Unfortunately, I tend to agree with your suggestion that the real estate industry is evolving. Frankly, it seems to be morphing toward a completely different model than the traditional. And a main contributor to the fundamental change is the volume and calibre of people entering the business. I don’t mean to be disrespectful here, but the proof is in the pudding, so to speak. Growth in membership has been exponential over the past decade or so. And with so many registrants, it’s only natural for them to compete on fees. The result? Lower revenue for traditional full-service brokerages and their agents. Room for small brokerages is shrinking, including once and still popular international franchises. If we could gaze into a crystal ball to see the industry even 20 years hence, I doubt we’d recognize it. I address this subject in my book, The Happy Agent, available at several local real estate board stores as well as Amazon. Thanks again.

  14. Absolutely agree with Ross re negotiation. Therein lies the art of our chosen career. It is imperative to the transaction in my view and my favourite part of the process. You get an instant read of the Sellers situation as a Buyers agent, you develop report with the Seller and you humanize the Buyer. Makes for a better process and increases odds of success.

    • Thanks, Thomas, for your comment. I agree that it is indeed the best part of the process. As I’ve said, the real estate business is a people business. And I always treated it as such. You might enjoy reading my book, The Happy Agent,available at several local real estate board stores as well as Amazon. Thanks again.

  15. Ross

    I am currently reading your book. I agree with what Brian Martindale said. Before expending thousands of dollars getting registered and up and running as a REALTOR®, it would be useful to read your book. Equally important, your book would prove a useful read for the public, prior to buying and/or selling.

    Although the book is written in a manner that is certainly above the reading level of the quote, quote “menu-reader” level in some parts, and the abundance of referenced quotes throughout might be outside the ease of comprehension of the average reader who might not recognize the associated names, the quotes are interesting intersections that might open the minds of some, as clearly you yourself are well-read.

    Coincidentally, I am reading at the buyer agency segment of your book. More than twenty years have passed and buyer agency isn’t even fully understood by the industry, much less being able to be understood by the public, and expressly not understood by the press (supported by comments of many, still, within the industry), who keeps noting that the commission is “always” paid by the seller(s). And it’s curious how many law offices still can’t wrap their heads around it. Who better, one could think, would be in perhaps the best place to understand agency, as in contract law “representation?”

    It’s not just about commission; buyer agency is about representation. Both clearly not understood, misunderstood, and or avoided as a necessary topic, in general.

    Clearly this (buyer agency) topic is not well-taught in licensing procedure training. How can it possibly be so, after all these years. There are still brokers who don’t include buyer agency broker contracts in their assets, as are listing contracts.

    Which brings us back to the desperate need of a set of national rules and regulations, not broken into provincially controlled systems that vary place to place.

    Perhaps see my REM post today at:

    https://www.remonline.com/zillow-fear-or-the-future/#comment-318794

    Carolyne L 🍁

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