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Calling All Hagglers: 7 Things a Savvy Buyer Should Always Hammer Out With a Seller

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Thinking of buying a house, but not sure what you can ask for during the negotiation process? Here’s a little tip: There’s no harm in going for what you want.

“Everything is negotiable,” says Bruce Ailion, an attorney and real estate agent with Re/Max in Atlanta. “You can negotiate simple items like fresh paint, new flooring, a new roof, new appliances, and closing costs. We have even had sellers pay off buyers’ debts to qualify. No limit.”

That said, you probably won’t get a seller to pay off your debt in a hot real estate market.

With that in mind, ascertain what kind of market you’re shopping in (buyer’s or seller’s) to determine how much negotiating power you have. Regardless of the real estate temperature, however, here are the top things that a smart buyer can request.

1. Any item in or outside the home

Everything is negotiable. It’s all a matter of price.

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You can always bring up items outside what a listing includes in the home’s sale during the negotiation process. For a buyer, that can be everything from furniture to outside plants, lighting fixtures, customized accessories like curtains or blinds, and yard maintenance equipment. Simply ask for these items in your offer.

It doesn’t mean the seller will comply, but there is no harm in trying.

“We have had people negotiate for furnishings, a piano, theater systems, playgrounds, and boats,” says Ailion.

2. Time to close

Generally, sellers prefer an offer with a quick closing because it makes the deal seem more solid.

But the closing time frame may also be negotiable depending on the seller’s needs. Keep in mind that waiting for approval on financing with a mortgage broker is usually the No. 1 thing that holds up a closing.

As a result, many sellers prefer cash offers, which tend to close faster. However, if you don’t have the cash and want to ensure you have a quicker closing, get pre-approved for a mortgage before you start shopping for a home.

3. Occupancy

How long a seller gets to stay in the home after closing is known as a Post Close Occupancy Agreement and is often changed if a buyer feels the seller is asking for too much time postclosing. (About a month is generally considered standard, so negotiate anything longer than that.)

However, this is one area that could work to a buyer’s advantage in a hot market. If you can be flexible with giving a seller more time to move, you might win the deal over another buyer who needs a home immediately.

“I had a client who was selling their apartment, but the new one wasn’t going to be ready in time,” says global real estate adviser Nicole Beauchamp, an associate broker with Engels & Volkers. “And they were willing to negotiate the price for someone who could be very flexible on the closing date and postclosing occupancy.”

If you enter into such an agreement, you can also negotiate for the sellers to pay you a nightly rate to extend their occupancy.

4. Contingencies

Waiving an inspection is a significant risk.

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Contingencies are clauses in a purchase agreement specifying an action or requirement that must be met for the contract to become legally binding. They usually include provisions like a home inspection and appraisal. Though you would think these basics would be a given in any home sale, they are still negotiable. And some homebuyers even skip them to try to seal the deal.

“In the recent hyperactive seller’s market, sellers had the power to negotiate certain contingencies out of a homebuyer’s offer,” says Jason Gelios, a real estate agent with Community Choice Realty in Southeast Michigan. “Home inspections and even appraisals were being waived in an effort by the homebuyer to win the home.”

However, waiving an inspection is a considerable risk.

“From my experience, it’s so important to do inspections and for sellers to disclose everything they know,” says Catherine Stern, a real estate agent with Red Oak Realty in Berkeley, CA.

Though these contingencies are technically negotiable, be careful before you agree to forgo them. Inspections and appraisals are a form of protection to keep you from buying a lemon!

5. Home warranty

At least for the first year, this is something a buyer can ask a seller to cover. A home warranty is an optional agreement offered by a home warranty company that covers repairs or replacements on appliances in a home.

“A home warranty is probably one of the most negotiated items I see between a homebuyer and seller,” says Gelios. “Home warranties can give a homebuyer the peace of mind that the appliances are covered. This is usually a savings of $500 or more.”

6. Security system

Securing your home is essential, but only if the system works.

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If a home has an outdated security system, you might want to negotiate for its removal—or, in some cases, replacement—before the sale. An old setup can be a liability and cost a lot to update or repair. It might even interfere with a home’s electrical panel.

“Modern systems have cameras, wires, and sensors,” says Marissa Verson Harrison, a real estate agent with Red Oak Realty in Oakland, CA. “Sometimes sellers will leave these cameras as an act of good faith, or we have to negotiate it as part of the purchase.”

7. Deep cleaning

Having the sellers deep-clean the home after they move out should always be written into a contract. And if you don’t negotiate for it, don’t expect it to magically happen.

“Deep cleaning is a much more intense process because they know the home is going to a new family—it is someone’s new beginning,” says Harrison. “It’s important because a home might be empty but not clean. So having it worked into the negotiations is not only helpful but cost-effective and hassle-free.”

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