By Ross Wilson

I left off last time with the reading and explanation of the terms and clauses of an offer. Now, in this third of the series on offer negotiation, let’s get into the strategy behind the technique that worked so well for me during my career.

You’re still gathered around the table. You could ask the buyer’s agent to leave the room so you can have some privacy with your client. Sadly, this has been my experience when representing a buyer client. However, permitting them to remain a little longer will provide the opportunity to question them.

Before counselling your seller, it’s prudent to know, for example, if the buyer is pre-approved for the mortgage, if the closing date is set in stone, if the deposit can be increased or even if the buyer is prepared to negotiate. Ask if this is their client’s final offer; their verbal and/or non-verbal response can reveal much. They may prevaricate or say it’s a starting point. In either case, this typically means the buyer is open to a counter.

If the offer is conditional upon the sale of the buyer’s home, it’s critical to know the terms of that listing or if it’s even listed. If so, how long has it been actively available? Is it priced correctly? If not, their offer may not be worth the paper upon which it’s written. So, determine viability of any conditions.

Having the buyer agent present also gives you the chance to get some personal background on the buyer. Get a feel for them through “small talk” with their representative. How long have they been searching for a home? Do they have children? How suitable is the home? How excited are they? It’s critical, though, to avoid this being perceived as an interrogation. To avoid alarming them, casually sprinkle the questions throughout the meeting. With such information, you’re better equipped to sense the degree of buyer motivation.

Many agents talk too much. And they may not consciously realize that you’re not engaging in purely social drivel. If properly asked, subtle probing questions can provide answers that could prove pertinent to the negotiations and help you better advise your seller. Finally, so you can consult confidentially with your clients, ask the buyer’s agent to leave the room and retain at least one copy of the offer.

If you’re representing a buyer, I caution you to be selective about the information you share; don’t gab too much. Keep your cards close. You don’t want the listing agent to know, for example, that your clients are really excited. Delicately convey a subtle message that they’re interested in buying the property. But unless your buyer finds the terms acceptable, they’re prepared to continue their search. They may even have another home already in mind. It’s all about position. Whoever appears the most anxious will lose the high ground and end up capitulating to the demands of the apparently less so.

After the buyer agent has left the room, begin your private consultation by briefly summarizing the offer. It’s important for the seller to understand and address the less significant terms before tackling what is usually the most contentious issue, the price. As you progress quickly through the clauses, once again beginning with the least important, ask your sellers if each is clear and acceptable. If an objection arises, make a note of it and say you’ll return to it later. Objections aren’t always genuine, but simply veiled attempts to slow things down. They may need time to think before making a decision. And their ostensible objections may vanish into thin air. Then ask for their feelings.

In the fourth installment, of this series, I’ll continue to address this most critical of real estate services, and the one that most directly leads to commission generation.


  1. What I meant by ” behind the times” is that many years ago before buyer agency was introduced both the listing agent and the co-operating agent worked for the interest of Seller ( known as the vendor back then) only. As per the listing contract. So questions such are they willing to pay more ? Or is this thier final offer ? Are they willing to pay more? Were valid questions.

    • That’s true, David. Such questions were indeed valid then. And they’re still valid now. You’d be surprised how many buyer agents unwisely delivered an answer to me when asked such questions. Sometimes, I was able to deduce an answer to my strategically phrased question. And on other occasions, they answered non-verbally. As I’ve said, it was not my responsibility to protect the interests of someone else’s client.


    Granted, I wrote these articles ages ago, and some folks might think it is better just to email offers, perhaps dozens at a time. Throw enough of it at the wall, some of it sticks theory.

    I half expect that the no eye-contact method of presenting offers came about as a result of relocation offers, representing either buyers or sellers and we had to use fax machines, courier services, or send by carrier pigeon bird. Long before FaceTime conversations, and Skype, and email systems.

    Many times I participated in relocation offers when people both sides were “out of town.” It is less than an ideal situation and you had better have all your ducks lined up in a row, with the goal being to get right the first time.

    It could get quite curious when both sides of the transaction were out of travel reach, like when I was representing a lawyer-buyer client (under buyer contract) who had a death in the family overseas in the midst of negotiations, and had to travel to India in the midst of an offer presentation. And the sellers were away on holiday. WOW! We put it all together and I was on the phone at 3 am Toronto time for several days in a row.

    It’s really true. Where there’s a will there’s a way, to find a meeting of the minds. I once registered an offer on a MLS listing and was told it couldn’t be presented due to owners were in Montreal due to a funeral. I inquired if the agent had been given authority to reject offers on behalf of the family. No she had not. In spite of the sad situation, I asked that the listing agent advise the owner for instruction specifically how to proceed in this case. She refused initially and I explained I didn’t think she had the right even in fiduciary duty to make that decision on behalf of her seller. She did notify her seller and was instructed to fax the offer.

    Offer accepted with no changes and seller was very grateful and actually communicated personally with me when they returned home to thank me.

    I always instructed my buyers to make their best offer the first time if they were truly serious. I was so blessed to have buyers who took doing business seriously. Our business is not a Monopoly game.

    But in my opinion there’s nothing more satisfaction-wise for all parties than to be sitting at a table. We are entrusted with mega million dollars of public trust monies and earn a handsome fee for performing fiduciary duty. Part of the secret of success is never to rush anybody. It doesn’t matter how busy you are, you simply must treat every client, buyer or seller, as though they are the only client you have.

    There should be no “opponents.” This is not a chess game. But it often is a game of wits. The first one to speak loses.

    This can be the easiest and most fulfilling and lucrative (but sometimes most frustrating) business in the world. Stay calm. And don’t talk too much, except to say what is absolutely necessary. And, yes, watch body-language carefully. It speaks volumes. React appropriately. And always remember any buyer or seller contract doesn’t give the agent(s) a right to “an opinion.” Never!

    Just the facts, ma’am. Just the facts. And you must be able to quantify and qualify the facts. If all is above board, the paperwork should do the talking (so to speak). Subject to being “explained.” That’s very different than adding personal opinions or comments.

    Carolyne L 🍁

  3. The representation points made in the comments are valid. And things mentioned in this article should never be discussed at the table during negotiations. The author is obviously a bit behind the times. However, in my opinion, it never is a bad idea to negotiate in person. More so if you are trying to represent your buyer to get the best possible price, terms and conditions. If, as a buyer agent, you just email the offer and let the listing agent and seller make all the decisions for your client, you have to ask yourself. What am I really doing for my buyer client other then a turnstile to pass on papers.

    • Thanks, David, for your comments. I agree that certain confidential subjects should not openly be discussed at the negotiation table. However, as listing agent, any subject that could help my sellers make a fully-informed decision is fair game for me to address. On the other side of the table, if the buyer’s representative unthinkingly answers my direct questions or subtle probing, verbally or non-verbally, thereby disclosing confidential information, well, that’s their problem. That’s why I encourage seller agents to invite, or even insist, that buyer reps attend the offer presentation. It’s the responsibility of the buyer rep to be aware of what the listing rep is attempting to do, and to respond accordingly in the best interests of their client. But in my experience, many just were not able to avoid providing me with information, with the language of words or their bodies.

      I may indeed be “behind the times”, David, as my life and business philosophies regrettably don’t seem to fit in today’s pressure-cooker, greed-filled marketplace, at least in the eyes of some of our ilk. However, I have no doubt that there are countless sales reps who happen to share some of those philosophies. And they still earn an attractive income.

      • Good question, Gord. I appreciate you asking it. I assumed that what David was illuding to was my preference for personal contact over digital communication. I’ve always believed that our business is a belly-to-belly one. However, many “modern” agents, for various reasons, prefer to simply email documents for consideration and execution, even if their trusting client is virtually around the corner. Hopefully, he’ll respond to your question with more clarity. Too bad we can’t meet personally instead of exchanging digits to discuss the issue further. :-)

  4. Here Mr. Wilson reveals so many of the problems the current real estate trading legislation creates.

    A Buyer Brokerage when asked “is this the starting point of your clients offering price or the best they are prepared to go” dilemma.

    1) Break the Code of Ethics and use your negotiating skills to mislead and misrepresent the real intentions of your clients because that could get them a lower price.

    2) Break your fiduciary duty to your Buyer Client and openly discuss how much higher they will go.

    3) Get full informed consent from your Buyer Client on what you will share and not share about the Offer.

    4) Sit their stone faced staring at the wall and not blinking in order to not compromise the negotiating ability
    your client has.

    The complexity of the Offer and the Negotiation phase of a transaction is beyond the expected competency of anyone who does not sell at least 4 homes a month and has worked at least 500 transactions. In the Seller Representation World of pre-2000 simple sales reps only had to worry about not lying and getting the buyers to pay the highest price possible for any home (that included when your Mom was buying a home listed with another brokerage altogether.)

    Today’s rules and regs naturally create a legal conflict of interest that is really impossible to navigate if even discussing the offer with the opposing agent and that really is where all legislation needs to change.

    Co-Operating Brokerage in a Buyer Representation world do not exist. They are Opponent Brokerages who have a 100% case law requirement to ONLY represent the Buyer unless the Buyer has given written informed consent to do otherwise.

    That said when the average commission payable to a buyer brokerage is $15,000 should the Buyer assume receiving anything less than full Representation?

    While you can argue with the premise of this response I encourage you to call a local real estate lawyer and ask them the consequence of the Buyer finding out you told the Listing Brokerage or even implied that the Buyer would pay more. Then call up your provincial regulator and ask them what fine or penalty would you be exposed to if you mislead a Seller contracted with an Opponent Brokerage.

    One simple court case ends all this nonsense in the same way it ended Brokerages theft of IC earnings, Deposit funds being misused by Brokerages and even non-compliance of FINTRAC reporting. One simple court case always sends the Brokerage Business into FEAR mode and a quick resolution to activities that were previously being commonly followed outside what courts deem to be acceptable.

    • Thanks, Nelson, for your comments. However, I’m not sure I completely agree with you. Legislation nor case law will never eliminate all the legal challenges of our industry, nor will our Code of Ethics and Standards of Business Practice. Why? Because humans are fallible. They make mistakes, innocently and fraudulently. Problems exist in our industry (and the world in general) when someone places their own interests ahead of those of their client. Sadly, it seems to be human nature. Though there are countless examples to the contrary, I believe that this is a fundamental problem with the concept of agency.

      I wrote this column and my book, The Happy Agent, in a well-intentioned attempt to help agents perform smarter, to help them serve their clients more efficiently, and to encourage agents to behave ethically. Throughout my 4+ decade career, I naturally followed my own creed, which happened to align with our REBBA and Code of Ethics. And I still had a hugely successful business practice. I ALWAYS put my clients first. Did I earn a million dollars annually? Nope. It wasn’t a priority for me. But I earned ENOUGH. I slept a restful sleep every night. And former clients typically returned to me for service and referred to me because they trusted me. It’s that simple.

      I feel that many agents live in fear of not having enough. Thus, they behave in a manner unbecoming of a professional agent. Thanks again for your contribution.

      • Hi Ross:

        I strongly recommend your book to every current or wannabe Realtor. I have read only about half of The Happy Agent, and it is chock full of excellent advice backed up by hard empirical personal experience.

        I agree that most Realtors live in a perpetual state of fear of not having enough. Any commissioned sales person possess this inherent mindset as a foundational personality trait that goes with the territory of working for one’s self without a guaranteed salary. It is from this foundation of insecurity that greed blooms.

        I was fortunate enough to enter the vocation, twice, without the need to produce a large, or even moderate income, in short order. It was therefore much easier for me to not break any rules or any moral codes in order to cobble a deal—or deals–together in order to pay bills…or buy that Beamer. Brokers like to hire hungry wannabes. It is from that crowd that crooks are spawned. Most who enter the business are hungry, therefore…

        Re the negotiation conundrum: There can be no actual negotiation without the parties to the negotiation sitting face-to-face with one another. Any deviation from this obvious reality reflects pure laziness on the parts of the so-called at-arm’s-length “unprofessional” Realtors. The other reason for vacancies at the negotiation table is lack of confidence in one’s ability to negotiate on par with the other side. Both foregoing reasons for failure in-the-saddle suggest that people who possess these types of amateur-hour personalities and backgrounds do not belong in the business, which amounts to the majority on any given day.

        Being able to fog up a mirror on interview day only allows for far too many wannabes to enter the what-should-be-a-profession-but-isn’t business on the never-ending conveyor belt to the ever-burning failed-Realtor dumpster-fire of dashed unrealistic fantasies. Being a good Realtor is an ongoing hard job, ergo more than 80% would not regularly flame out.

        A wannabe should be able to display a willingness to negotiate one’s terms of employment with potential brokers at the outset—face-to-face— at the very least. I had to do that when being interviewed for the position of “conciliator” with a government agency way back in the 1980’s. They offered me the job and wanted me to start immediately. I refused due to my wanting to complete my then current year at university. I got up to leave after thanking them for the job offer. They quickly asked me to reconsider. I said no thanks. They asked me how much time I needed to complete my year. That was when I knew that I had the job on my terms, as did the interviewers. Mine was the kind of personality that they wanted to put out there to be able to deal with the real-life problems that I would have to deal with once in the saddle. No such success that I went on to enjoy in the field with that agency would have evolved had I simply talked to them on the phone or via fax or email. There would have been no body language available for reading one another’s non-verbal signals.

        Negotiate in person; it’s a no-brainer.

        • As usual, Brian, your comments are honest and sensible. It appears that you and I are indeed cut from similar cloth. Thanks for your ongoing support for my book, The Happy Agent. By the way, it recently reached #1 Best Seller on Amazon!

          My dream is that someone at RECO, OREA or CREA will champion it for recommended reading by industry applicants and existing registrants alike. Thanks again.

        • Ross’ book review as rejected at Amazon: (I wrote)

          The writer, [Ross] who while working in the industry kept a solitary profile, yet according to his story within a story he managed to put pen to paper in thirty some chapters of life-moving moments. It’s difficult to talk about the book without talking about the author.

          Ross is a man of many facets, a quiet soft spoken demeanour who recalls as he writes in his “The Happy Agent” book about amazing childhood memories staring at the sky, and smelling the flowers, trying to figure out the world from a young age, intent on being a writer, to his trip through a midlife crisis that he ultimately worked to his advantage employing the structures of the Law of Attraction, and writing of practical methods he employed in his real estate career helping himself on the road to helping others. A mix of industry-based textbook authentication and bio material, Ross addresses the knowledge that must be known not just in order to succeed but must be imbedded in the workaday world in the real estate field.

          His book is absolutely not just about the industry that he spent four decades in, but he has interwoven stories within, combined with an abundance of quotations supporting his personal in-depth findings, filled with information that if read by members of the public thinking of pursuing such a career, might take heed of long before investing the thousands of dollars on the presumption of making overnight millions, and how it is thought so easily done, by so many, backed up by chapter and verse relating the innards of what is required to make the business work (or not).

          His words of wisdom might be totally unimaginable to many as he interweaves bits of his personal successful freedom-finding mission.

          Mission accomplished: he says he now leads a life of pleasure and solitude having shared his readings and findings and interpretations with his readers; a softly glowing light peering through life’s sometimes darkness, he unravels the Laws of Attraction in a unique fashion that readers at various levels can employ in their own life construction or reconstruction.

          Ross has a keen understanding of what makes the world go ’round inside and outside real estate. The industry still might find a spot to employee his values in his so-called retirement years.

          Having read his book, those who are inside the industry and those outside, all might benefit from digesting and fielding his personal methods of survival of the fittest.

          Lady Carolyne Lederer-Ralston
          A nearly four decade (1980) Canadian REALTOR® … Author, food writer beginning in the mid 1970s, and Gourmet Cooking original recipe developer, and REM newspaper columnist (for a decade) –

          Cookbook now available on Amazon Kindle:
          ©”Gourmet Cooking ~ At Home with Carolyne.”

          And coming soon under contract with NYC publishing house:
          © “From Lady Ralston’s Kitchen: A Canadian Contessa Cooks”
          Turning everyday meal making into a Gourmet Experience

  5. You have packed a lot of info about the offer presentation in these few paragraphs. Congrats – the most important being your emphasis upon the importance/value to both sides of presenting offers “in person”. In GTA we’ve lost the understanding and appreciation of this aspect of the negotiation process – too many years of multi-offers on 3 day old listings. Salt this article away and re-read it when you have 4 listings (that aren’t being shown too often) and an offer comes in on one of them after it’s been for sale for 53 days …. a suggestion from another era.

    • Thanks, Uncle Bob, for your comments. It seems that we agree on fundamentals. And better than salting this column away for another time when the market returns to more balanced or buyer-favourable conditions, may I suggest keeping a copy of my book, The Happy Agent, on your bookshelf? Thanks again.

Leave a Reply