By Ross Wilson

“Admitting error clears the score and proves you wiser than before.” – Arthur Guiterman

I’ve witnessed all sorts of presentation styles, most of them appallingly amateurish. In this second of the series on offer negotiation (the first is here), I delve a little further into the subject, sometimes somewhat bluntly.



Some listing agents with whom I’ve briefly worked have vainly attempted to justify their existence by simply reading the entire offer (and not well) to their seller as though their client were functionally illiterate. Others have respectfully encouraged the seller to read for themselves, and then proceeded to read it to them – out loud – just in case they missed something during their private reading. Boring, boring and did I say boring? It’s time-consuming and maybe a little insulting to their clients’ intelligence.

Upon receiving the offer, others have launched immediately into a brief abridgment of the terms, thereby not allowing the seller the opportunity to read and properly digest a document with which they’re probably unfamiliar. After the seller has read the offer, some agents have brazenly declared the price unacceptable – without any apparent client consultation – and without giving any due consideration to other critical terms.

This introduces an aggressive, antagonistic spirit to the proceedings. I’ve observed a listing agent hand over a copy of the offer to the seller, wisely allow them to read it thoroughly, sometimes quietly, and then immediately upon their finishing, ask for their comments, opinion or decision without any questions, discussion or explanation.

A list of terrible styles would be incomplete without the one wherein a listing agent just faxes or emails the offer to their seller for review; ridiculous and unprofessional. All of those agents – many of whom are probably long gone – neglected to take a professional holistic approach to what is arguably the most important aspect of our service.

For a brief coaching session, as a listing agent, you should arrive at your seller’s home early and prior to the arrival of the buyer’s agent. Walk them through basic procedure and ask that they follow your lead during negotiations. Answer any questions that might arise, and to help them be objective, review an updated CMA. Remind them that the other agent will almost certainly be representing the interests of the buyer. For this reason, they should not disclose anything of a confidential nature nor visibly react to the offer terms in the presence of the buyer’s agent.

Tell them to keep their cards close. Explain that once the offer has been reviewed and you’ve asked clarifying questions of the buyer’s rep, you’ll be asking the agent to leave the room. This will permit you to consult privately with your seller regarding the merits and shortcomings of the offer. To equip them to choose the best course of action, you’ll then explain all available options and make recommendations.

Since it’s a business meeting with a fair amount of paperwork and hopefully document signing, gather around a cleared kitchen or dining table. And ask them to do whatever is possible to avoid potential interruptions from kids, snuffling dogs, squawking birds and blaring TVs. During the proceedings, unless it’s an emergency, ask that all phone calls go directly to voicemail. If they live in a raucous menagerie, suggest a meeting in your office boardroom. You want a calm and fully informed decision after both spouses have had the benefit of an uninterrupted presentation and discussion.

After the buyer’s rep arrives, to minimize a potentially adversarial environment, strategically seat everyone around the table by mixing it up a little. Don’t allow the table to be a subliminal boundary between two opposing sides. Maybe have a seller on each side and the two reps on each of the other ends. The buyer’s agent will then hopefully hand you an offer copy for each participant.

Astoundingly, they sometimes bring only a single copy. I recall a long-ago presentation when an old-timer, after some social chatter, leisurely withdrew the only copy from his back pocket. With a wink and a smile, he gently unfolded a wrinkled, hand-written offer onto the table and casually slid it over. We made the sale, but it was memorable in its casual informality.

To set a respectful and optimistic tone on behalf of your sellers, express your gratitude to the buyer agent for bringing the offer. Begin by explaining that it’s an unbiased standard form produced by the local association and on which most resales are created. Invite your attentive sellers to read the offer entirely. Unless they have a specific question, suggest skipping the pre-printed standard clauses and review only the pertinent terms typed into the offer body and blanks.

Until the sellers are finished their reading, both agents should wait patiently – and quietly. Resist the urge to discuss the offer or engage in idle prattle. Such behaviour will only distract the seller and prolong the presentation by stealing their focus. And don’t fidget in your seat like an impatient school kid waiting for the bell to ring. Since all their questions will likely be answered during your summation, if your seller has a question, ask them to save it until that time. Make it clear that prior to getting into details, you want them to get a general overview of the terms. Controlling the presentation is the name of the game. Even though it’s their property, it’s your party.

After confirming that both sellers have finished silently reading the offer, starting from the bottom of the last page and working your way up and to each previous page, briefly summarize each clause. In other words, start with the least important clauses, which are typically those added nearer the end of the contract. (Offers should be drafted with clauses ordered in priority of importance – most to least.) Don’t waste time re-reading the entire document because everyone has already read it, maybe more than once. If your seller begins to opine or complain about something, particularly of a confidential or strategic nature, or voices an objection, politely remind them to hold that concern for your private session. Proceed as you had coached them in your pre-meeting by asking for verbal acknowledgment of understanding – not necessarily agreement – of each clause and advance in reverse through the offer until you arrive at the price.

In the next column, this series continues with more advice on how to proceed with a professional offer presentation.

SIMILAR ARTICLES

26 COMMENTS

  1. As a listing agent I always go through the APS with the seller. So when an offer comes in it doesn’t really matter if it’s read forward or backwards, my sellers already know what the “fine print” is all about.

  2. You lost me at Paper copies.
    I haven’t used paper on the last 50 transactions I did. The times are-a-changin’ and the skills need to change too. Your advice is great for presenting in person, but; who does that? We need to learn new skills: how to negotiate over the phone, and how to negotiate using email and text message.

    • With everything being equal, I know that I have secured purchases by presenting in person, especially in multiple offer situations. It is my understanding that a listing agent cannot refuse in person presentations. Someone please correct me if I am wrong. It’s a whole different ballgame when it comes to investment properties etc. But as long as emotions are involved, I am all for “in person”.

    • Thanks for your comments, Rob. I agree that the times are changing. But in my view, not necessarily for the better.

      Imagine, if you will, international trade delegates or union/management negotiations taking place on the phone or via text and email. I’ve no doubt you’d agree that they’d likely end in failure, or certainly not as mutually successful.

      Communication is not just about verbal or digital exchange. There’s voice intonation and a whole lot of body language involved, both of which would be impossible unless the negotiating parties are in each other’s presence. Real estate negotiations are no different. There’s nothing like personal presentation and mutually respectful argument. And nothing you could say would convince me that most, if not all of your 50 presentations would have been more successful had you been personally present during the negotiations. Maybe you lucked out due to the ridiculously hot market conditions. But as you know, markets change. Stay tuned.

      I invite you to read my book, The Happy Agent, which contains a whole section on the subject of kinesics. Reading it might help you prepare for more changing times ahead.

  3. Hi Good basis except for the read back to front. In BC we have important sections thruout the contract, page 1 price and deposit terms, page 2 and possibly 3 subjects or terms, page 4 completion and inclusions, page 4 boilerplate but important , page 5 agency disclosures and ability or restriction to assign contract, page 6 signatures and open for acceptance until________ So I review front to back but explain no changes made until entire contract reviewed and understood. Plus a seperate information page which is a good review of the process. right up to completion.

    • Thanks, Michael, for your comment. After practicing in Ontario for over 4 decades, I’m obviously not familiar with your province’s forms and protocol. Nevertheless, I’m sure you agree that the principles remain the same.

  4. How old school. Never EVER allow the buyers agent to come present an offer (unless in multiple offer scenario). Buyers agents have no business seeing the sellers reactions or thoughts on the offer. You would be seriously damaging your clients bargaining power by allowing this situation. Sellers agents don’t go to the buyers house to present the sellers counter offer. There is a reason for that.

    • Well, Don, I guess I’m old school. I followed the same procedure for over 4 decades, and I might add, with a career in the upper production echelon of the industry. Maybe if more registrants were to follow this tried and true protocol, they too might join the ranks of that small percentage of agents to survive beyond their first 5 years in the industry. In this case, the advantages for a smart agent far outweigh any possible disadvantage attached to having the buyer rep present.

      • I guess you should have Googled me before you answered.- 28 years in Real Estate. Top 1% in Canada – historically and currently. No, your method is totally out of sync with looking after your clients ( sellers ) best interests. Period.

          • I agree. I’ll read your book if you’re willing to also take the opportunity to learn and grow. Things change. I spent lots of years listening to buyers agents tell sellers why their homes were worth less than they were asking, yet would be offended when I asked to meet with their buyers to explain sellers side. It was a very one sided arrangement. It needed to stop.

        • If a day goes by in which I’ve learned nothing, Don, I’m disappointed. That’s why I’m a voracious reader of books of any genre. While all those buyer reps were talking, they were usually inadvertently providing you with information that could have helped you provide a better service to your seller clients. I always found those presentations a golden opportunity to understand the buyers. But instead of being annoyed with the agent’s behaviour, I read between the lines.

      • Ross et al

        There’s no language like body language; and bullies are front and centre. In your in-excess of four decades and my nearly four decades, there’s been plenty of opportunities missed by those “not being there in person.”

        Simple things like an in-person agent appearing with only one copy of an offer for everyone to read. The paper not even being in a file folder, rolled with curled ends on the paper looking like it might have been retrieved from a trash can, a little bit of McD’s stuck on a corner. Truly.

        Doesn’t necessarily speak to the skill set / mind set of the agent, but in a multiple offer situation table presentation just might influence decision-making one could suppose.

        Shades of the banker and the Japanese client story I mentioned recently. Such talk is not criticism. It is just relating how things happen in the real world.

        I’ve had offers accepted due to that I referred to the seller’s property as his “home,” while another agent referred to it as their “house,” and yet another, as “this place” is not worth the listed price.

        Sold prices released in MLS revealed that my buyer’s offer was for 2k less than the others. Of course one of the agents inquired as to why that seller accepted less money than his offer. He was furious. (In that case his offer might have had better luck faxed or emailed – lol.)

        The seller proudly explained apparently why he accepted my buyer’s offer.

        Different strokes for different folks, that kind of liaison could not have been accomplished any way but in person. Initially I had no idea what the relationship of my offer to the others was.

        My least favourite part of the job was showing houses. My favourite: sitting at the offer presentation table amongst real people.

        Carolyne L 🍁

        • Considering the size of the fees involved, and that it’s an agent’s responsibility to provide the best service possible, I feel that personal presentations are the least a seller or buyer agent can do. Thanks, Carolyne.

    • As long as the listing agent allows you to do so, as a buyers’ agent I will continue to present in person

  5. Ross, great story that we hear all too often, Agents being unprepared and not will to work and fight for the commission they ask for.
    Can’t wait for the next edition.

  6. Just wanted to add a practical suggestion to some of what has been said. I’ve always counselled my sales reps/brokers that the offer presentation actually begins with the listing. I love the TREB APS form with the red letter insert explaining clauses, and have suggested to my team to include it in your listing presentation. Why?
    It sets the expectation of an offer review with the Seller and it gives them time to review all preprinted clauses and ask any questions that may come out of that review with the listing sales rep/broker (if necessary) before the offer presentation. The Listing Sales rep/broker should counsel the Seller that they will likely review only 6 negotiable points of the offer at the offer presentation: Price, Deposit, Buyer/Seller conditions, Inclusions/Exclusions, Irrevocable date, Closing date. Since the Seller has already reviewed the preprinted clauses the apprehension of the decision is substantially lessened, thereby allowing the Seller a more peaceful resolution.
    Also, these points should be reviewed by the Listing sales rep/broker before handing the offer to them. My experience has told me that keeping their attention is really important, so I usually present the information from the bottom up and end at price. the tendency if handed to the Seller is that they go to price first and it may end there.
    In any event, at the listing, set the stage for the offer presentation, so the Seller is comfortable and ready to make an informed decision when that moment comes.
    Bringing potential objections forward and dealing with them at the front end is the mark of a professional.

    • Well said, Frank. It seems that we agree that an informed seller is a better seller. And preparing them for the offer presentation during the listing consultation is a great idea. Thanks for your comments.

  7. In part Ross, there is much to agree. In part, there is some to disagree with.

    It is essential the Seller have an acute and comprehensive understanding of the terms of the offer. A professional must be sure the client (buyer or seller for that matter) meets this goal, and hence offer terms (‘standard’ as referred to and others) must be explained. If not done ahead of an offer presentation (discussion of pre-printed terms and probable inserted terms in schedules) it must be done at the presentation.

    You are right that a recitation of the terms in the moment with the buyer rep present is boring. It is not preferable; on the other hand it does give a buyer rep the opportunity to read the seller’s response and that can be to the buyer’s rep advantage. (indeed, there may be a school of thought that suggests why is only the seller present, why not both parties or why not the seller at all????),

    One can make the explanation of the terms with or without the buyer’s rep present, and in any event, must be done before a response is given. A well rehearsed “abridged version” takes about 8-10 minutes so that it would seem like a scripted monologue; but that is just my way of doing it!

    Another approach is to indicate at the start the Seller has already been educated on the meaning of the pre-printed and other expected terms in the schedules. And that while the presentation may not include detailed explanations, everyone is invited to comment on any of the terms at an appropriate time allotted to them.

    After concluding this first step, I ask the buyer’s representative if there is any term in the offer documents the buyer wants the seller to be sure of the buyer’s understanding of the term. A seemingly unnecessary step, except that it serves to first allow the buyer’s rep to identify any clarifications of the terms and limits their ability later to suggest that something was misunderstood between the parties and secondly, it adds to what you suggest should be a collective versus antagonistic negotiation.

    The REALTOR® who does the abridged presentation, in my opinion, is not to be included as a list of ‘terrible styles’ as one cannot know, to any certainty, that time allowed a more private explanation ahead of an offer and it is an essential step to ensure a seller’s understanding of what is before them.

    A few other approaches are worthy of consideration. One similar to your suggestion is to recommend to the seller that following the offer presentation they will be the first given the opportunity to ask questions, and that if I feel there is a further question to be asked, I will do so following their effort. This brings into focus the Seller is in control and is given the respect of their position in the transaction. It also provides comfort to them knowing that should something in my professional opinion be important to cover that was not included in their questions, it will be done. That is effective for their own confidence, and also to signal to the other REALTOR® the seller is in charge. And I advise them, to ask open ended questions and also that if perchance as they ask a question I interrupt to stop that part, it is only to protect their interest.

    Thank you for highlighting the need for improved negotiation efforts.

    • Cameron

      Typically I would leave a package with the sellers when I had the listing signed. Part of the package included a set of preprinted blank pages of the offer forms, showing the fine print that was not meant to be altered; but sometimes I had parties to the contract initial certain preprinted clauses to verify we had addressed the definition. (That’s a good way to introduce the non-resident status topic.)

      Of course I had to note that custom offer-specific clauses would be added at offer time that would be specifically explained at that time.

      A little secret: although I didn’t phone canvas or door knock, I kept a package in my car. I prepared basically the same package for FSBO’s, and just left it at their door; and I included a couple of lawyer’s business cards who would be happy to field any legal questions, when told “I” had provided the prepared packages.

      Carolyne L 🍁

    • I believe that we agree, Nolan, that a fully informed seller is paramount to a successful negotiation. Obviously, each agent’s style and personal peccadilloes will direct how such a goal is accomplished. But at the end of the day, it’s all about effective communication. Thanks for your contribution.

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