Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What should I offer? -The buyer's dilemma

It is a rare occurrence in America for a price to be negotiable, at least it is when you take into account the frequency at which we trade for things. I go to the shopping mall to buy pants and all the prices are already listed. I can't exactly go up to the cashier and say "34.99 for these pants! How about 28.50?" I would most likely be met with strange looks and perhaps an offer to sign up for a store charge card, which  I do not want. Yet when it comes to the really big things we buy or sell in our lives: houses, cars, or even ourselves when we negotiate prices for our services the bartering system is often in play. Yet I find myself often out of practice because it seems like I am often being asked to shoot a 3 pointer from half court for a 100,000 dollars, when I've not even practiced hitting layups or jump shots. I would wager that a trained shooter would be at least twice as likely to hit the shot as an untrained one.

So I have come up with  few tools based on both the advice of friends and family, my experiences in more barter friendly countries like Greece, and historical price data from Robert Shiller's excellent book Irrational Exuberence.

Offering to individuals

Making an offer to an individual is a far different prospect than making an offer to a bank. An individual is more likely to be offended by an extremely low ball offer, or a perceived attempt by the buyer or seller to squeeze every penny they can out of the opposing party( see carmelo anthony to nets negotiations).

So you are in a situation where you would like to get a good deal, don't want the negotiations to drag out, and don't want it to appear like you are trying to squeeze someone.

So if offering on a personal house the first thing you want to know is how much a person bought the property for. This will hugely effect what you can offer, not only because they will have a loan out for that amount on the house, but that they will be anchored on that number. Next I would learn what I could about the real estate market from that time, was it overpriced or underpriced?

When you look at historical trends in home prices, as Robert Shiller did, he found that real homes prices in the US since 1890 rose only .4% a year through 2004*. Moreover most of the increases occurred in two brief periods, the first directly following WWII in the baby boom and the second being the response to the 1990's stock boom. So how can I use this in placing an offer on an individuals home? I can use the 1997 or earlier value of their home(the real boom started in 1998) and then appreciate the price at .4% per year. For instance one family home I researched came up with initial purchase in 1996 of $133,000

Family Home 1 - $133000(1996) >>>(2011) 133000 *(1.004^15) =  $141, 207

I call this the historical average offer(HAO). So a good initial starting point for my wife and my first offer would be this.  Other factors may also come into play like, the new houses that have been added since then, whether the house is in good condition and has been updated, and the schools and the community the house is in. This house is on the market for a medium amount more than this so I don't think we will make an offer, mainly because it isn't an ideal house for us and there are so many other bank owned properties to offer on.

When dealing with an owner property I would also want to meet the owners and  try and pickup anything I can about their attachment to the house-is the mortgage already mostly paid or is there a point where they are going to owe more than the house is worth. 

Offering to banks

I much prefer to deal with banks because, they have far different incentives than an individual owner.
A house sitting there to a bank is just an expense, and depending on the bank and the time of year may be making their earnings look bad, so with a bank I have the social ability to make an offensive offer. It may be a long term bad proposition for them to take but it may make individual employee's within that company look good for the quarter or year. So I'm definitely going to offer below my owner based HAO. I'm also going to deal mostly from my own perspective. I do not mind putting in 10 offers on bank owned houses and getting turned down on every one.  Although I would say that with a bank you also want to offer the prospect of quick negotiations and closing. Don't drag things out if itdoesn't go right within a week just quit. When the money you are putting down is big take a lesson from Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov and be patient.

So getting down to it I would use something I call turnaround sell value break even point(TSVBP or tis-vap). Which I included in the table of my previous post, but didn't really discuss.  Basically seller agents and buyers agents get 6% of any house offer, so if you to buy a house then sell a house then you would be charged 6% on the price each time. For simplification purposes I use the current list price of a house and multiply it by .94(1-.06) twice**. With a bank you could go further. Come up with a price that you think you get for a house in a year(with updating and a different market perspective) then multiply it by .94 twice and you have a good starting offer for a bank.  For my owner house this would have yielded an offer of $20,000 less than the HAO price, so I wouldn't offer this to an individual(unless you wanted to offend them of course).

So say you think you can sell a house for 140,000 but it is owned by a bank. Offer 123,700, you can only be turned down, which costs you nothing but a little bit of time.

If there are other offers you may want to know how much a house may be costing them and factor it in, but with the current market conditions I think just making 10+ low offers would probably yield the best long term results. I remember traveling in Greece and my good friend making a offer on a chess set for 1/3 of the asking price, being turned down, then walking out of the shop only too be chased down by the shop assistant saying yes they would accept the offer, if he paid in cash. The walkout strategy must always be employed in order to maximize results in bartering!

 *Irrational Exuberence. Shiller, pg 20.
** for a more accurate break even result you would want to reverse engineer the process because if you get a house for a low ball offer you will be paying less on the initial sale, but this just helps you to get a reasonable point from the list price 

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