Tips and Traps When Negotiating Real Estate: Challenge the Written Word

Learn to Act: Challenge the Written Word

Have you ever noticed the power of the printed word? You’re signing a lease and it says, “No pets allowed.” You have a pet. Suddenly you feel the energy flowing out of the agreement. You won’t get rid of Bowser and they don’t take pets.

Can you keep the deal alive?

Certainly. Just remember that whoever wrote out the agreement decided that, as a general rule, pets were not desirable, and a good way of discouraging tenants from having them was to include those words. An agent can point to the sentence as proof that pets aren’t allowed. You, of course, could simply cross out the word no and ini­tial your change. If the landlord wanted you as a tenant, he or she might initial it too. Then pets would be allowed.

Words, when they are written, have uncommon power to affect our lives. You go to a movie theater and after buying your ticket see a sign that says, “Line forms here.” So you stand there. But what if you stood somewhere else and people stood behind you. Why then the sign would be wrong, wouldn’t it?

Often when filling out a mortgage application, it is noted on one or more papers that you, the borrower, are asked to sign that you must pay for a whole list of fees including:

  • Drawing documents
  • Transferring documents
  • Application submission fee
  • Administrative fee
  • And so on

These are, by and large, garbage fees that mortgage brokers and some lenders’ representatives use to pad the profits they make from the loan. But, because it’s printed on paper, most borrowers simply acquiesce without a question.

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But you know that these are garbage fees and you don’t want to pay them. Again, you feel the energy flowing away. Either you agree and feel cheated, or you disagree and walk out. (Not a good idea as it may cost you the deal and cause repercussions with the seller.)

There is another alternative, challenging the fees. All of these fees are challengeable and negotiable. Just because they are written down on a paper you arc asked to sign doesn’t mean they are non- negotiable.


When someone says that something is nonnegotiablc, what they may really mean is that negotiations have just begun.

Tell the lender you want the loan, but you know these fees aren’t reasonable and you want them removed or reduced. After the lender gets over his or her shock, negotiation may open. Of course, some lenders really won’t dicker, particularly when they are making lots of loans. But in a slow market, many will.

Real estate documents—leases, sales agreements, options, listings—are rife with words printed to tell you what you can and can­ not do. These are often called “boilerplate” because they regularly occur in every document. The trouble, of course, is that sometimes they arc disadvantageous to you. For example, I was recently exam­ining a sales agreement a builder was using that noted a minimum deposit of $5,000 was required with the offer. In other words, I had to come up with $5,000 in earnest money if I wanted to make an offer on the property.

I simply didn’t want to come up with $5,000. The printed word could kill the deal. I wrote out a check for $500 and presented it to the agent. She smiled and said I had left off a zero. I said I hadn’t. She pointed to the sentence. I took her pen and crossed out the sentence, then handed her back the check for $500. She didn’t smile, but she also didn’t refuse to present the offer.

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A friend of mine who lives out of town recently was seeking to list his property. The agent’s listing agreement had written in it that the commission was 7 percent. He told the agent he was only willing to pay 4 percent.

The agent said he was sorry, but they only worked for 7 percent. My friend replied that if that was the case, he would get another agent. Eventually they compromised at 5 percent.


Just because it’s written down doesn’t mean it’s true. If writing it down made it so, then everything you read in the newspapers would be gospel.