Scope Out the Sellers

Find out as much as possible about the sellers, starting with the first visit. Everything you learn will make you a better informed, and therefore more capable, negotiator should you decide to make an offer.

Conversely, do not give away strategic information to the seller or the seller's agent or broker. You are at a disadvantage if the seller discovers you have sold your current home and are anxious to find a replacement. The same is true if you have a soon-to-expire lease or are shopping from out of town.

It's hard not to be forthcoming in a pleasant conversation, but resist showing your hand. Put on your best poker face and give noncommittal answers.

If you would rather remain anonymous until your offer is presented, don't give your name to agents at open houses and don't sign visitor registers. And ask the agent who is helping you look to refrain from identifying you to sellers until an offer is submitted.

Seller motivation will determine how the house is priced to sell in the first place and how receptive to price cutting the seller may be later on. But the seller, and the seller's agent and subagents, may be coy or less than candid because everything you learn will make you a tougher adversary in the negotiation that follows. Try to ferret out answers to the questions on the worksheet on the preceding page. If you can, talk with the seller's neighbors in a nonthreatening way that doesn't invade their personal privacy. You might ask whether any houses have been sold in the neighborhood recently, and so forth. Then, try to steer the conversation toward the sellers and the house you want to buy.

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