Variable or Range Pricing of Real Estate

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About half the listings around here do not have a single number asking price, but rather a range in which offers will be considered. Even many agents have trouble understanding range pricing. I've seen and heard more than one agent rail against it, saying that it is essentially "repricing the home".

Range pricing began in Australia and was brought to the United States by a certain major real estate chain. That chain is not one I particularly like doing business with, but that doesn't mean range pricing is a bad idea.

Range pricing is a way of starting people talking, and to begin the negotiating process; nothing more. If there's no offer made in the first place, I can guarantee there will be no transaction. The idea of range pricing is to jump start the negotiations.

Range pricing is not appropriate for all properties, nor in all markets. In the buyer's market we have now, I'm certainly more hesitant to use it, as it offers more information as to the owner's state of mind. In a seller's market where prices are rising rapidly and sellers have all the power, it gives an indication as to what a serious offer is and what it is not. In a buyer's market like now it tells some buyers exactly how much leverage they may have. I'm also more leery of using it on commercial properties.

One thing many agents (and others) misinterpret range pricing to mean is that any old offer inside the range should be accepted. This is the mark of an inexperienced negotiator. If they say offers will be considered between $400,000 and $425,000, that is not the same thing as saying "I want $425,000, but I'll take $400,000." There are many other terms and conditions on a purchase contract besides just the price, and there is no mandate to agree with even a full asking price offer if those other terms are prohibitive. Indeed, an agent who knows how to figure out other terms to offer in place of higher price is likely to save you far more than any commission they earn. Even price is rarely just price. For instance, if I write an offer for $410,000 cash, no contingencies, with a $10,000 deposit, most sellers should rightly treat that as superior to an offer of $425,000 with the seller paying $10,000 of closing costs and only a $2000 deposit, contingent upon financing for sixty days. Note that the seller nets over $4000 more if the latter offer actually closes, but the former is a much stronger offer and if two such offers were to come in and other things were equal, I'd strongly counsel taking the cash offer, especially as the latter offer is indicative of a not very well qualified buyer without much commitment to the idea of purchasing the property, and there would be a high probability that the transaction will not actually close. There are all kinds of terms on purchase contracts, and having a discussion as to what's important to the other side can be a way of making your offer much more attractive without necessarily raising your price. For instance, owner occupants are often understandably nervous about whether the transaction is going to close, and committing large sums to alternative housing before it actually does close. If you can think of a way to address that concern, you're miles ahead of the negotiator who can't. Every situation is different, and what works one time may not be appropriate to even offer the next.

So if I see a property with range pricing of $400,000 to $425,000, I want to educate my buyer clients that an offer of $400,000 exactly, with the seller paying up to $20,000 of closing costs is not within the range indicated. Indeed, as I've said elsewhere for such offers, a $380,000 sales price with the buyer paying their own way is a superior offer from the seller's point of view. If they insist, I must and will submit it, but even in the current buyer's market I wouldn't be surprised to see it rejected outright with no counteroffer.

In the current buyer's market, those few buyers willing to purchase properties have an enormous amount of power, and this will continue until the seller to buyer ratio gets a little less lopsided. So in the current market, I might actually offer significantly less than the asking price range, secure in the knowledge that if this seller rejects it, I'll find something just as good tomorrow where the seller will accept. Some will. So if some won't, so what? You learn to spot the sellers that have the power to refuse, and the ones who have to take anything vaguely reasonable.

Now admittedly, I don't do a lot of listings, as most sellers don't like to listen when I tell them to price their property to the current market if they want to sell. (And if they don't, why are they talking to me?) I've only got one listing right now, and quite often, none. But when I'm showing them what the market is like, and what reasonable prices for properties like theirs are right now, I'll ask a couple of questions once I'm convinced they understand. Everyone knows what they want to get for the property, and by the time I'm done, they better understand what a reasonable asking price is and why it's stupid to list for more. But after that, once I've explained that there are offers and then there are offers, and the price isn't the only thing worth paying attention to, I'll then ask them, "Now that you know what a realistic asking price is, what would be the lowest price you would consider selling for, if someone offered everything else you wanted? Great deposit, all cash, no contingencies for financing, etcetera?" Next I'll ask, "How far over the realistic asking price we've agreed on would you require going if the buyer came up with some odious terms: takes possession early, no deposit or not much of one, wants a long escrow, etcetera?" Rebates always raise the necessary price at least dollar for dollar, by the way. A $380,000 offer with no rebate is superior to $400,000 with $20,000 rebate from both buyer's and seller's perspectives. Then, depending upon how much the seller needs to sell, I'll use that information to help me figure the endpoints of the asking range (assuming I'm not just going to use a single asking price). I won't just use either number, of course. But that, together with the state of the market and how much power buyers think they have in the market at the time, will give me a good feel for what the lower number of the range should be.

There is another, entirely different benefit to range pricing is that when the search is done on MLS or its substitutes, the lower number in the range is going to trigger your property coming up on more searches. Now, if you're a listing agent, MLS and MLS substitute buyers are more likely to be aggressive, and often unrealistic, bargain hunters, as opposed to people who really want to live in the neighborhood around this property. MLS inhabitants are not my favorite buyers when I'm listing a property, for that and other reasons. But if this property comes up on their search, they might look, and if they look, they might make an offer my client is happy to accept. If they don't even see it as they're searching, I guarantee no offer will come in from them. So range pricing helps me capture these people's attention. Whether interest, desire, and action follow is anybody's guess. But they might, where without range pricing they definitely wouldn't.

In short, range pricing, properly done, is not repricing the home, and it is a good way to get the buyer and seller to the table. It is not appropriate for every property in every market, but for those it is appropriate for, it's a useful tool. Properly used in the right market, it can even help your seller get a higher price for the property than any single number asking price you'd dare use.

Caveat Emptor


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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on February 16, 2008 7:00 AM.

What if Your Partner Refuses to Pay Their Share of a Loan or Mortgage (or Won't Pay on Time)? was the previous entry in this blog.

How Soon After You Purchase A Home Can You Refinance? is the next entry in this blog.

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