Negotiate by E-Mail?

Person with PDA handheld device.
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If your handheld device is your constant companion, then you know the lure of constantly checking e-mail of the thrill of getting replies back in minutes.  So here’s a question:  Should real estate negotiations be conducted via e-mail?

There are certainly some obvious benefits.  For one thing, the negotiation will proceed faster; agents using handheld devices can e-mail an entire conversation back and forth in the space of minutes.  For another, it might allow the negotiation to proceed late into the night, long past the time it would be inappropriate to call the other party on the phone.  E-mail also creates a written record, so it’s easy to go back over what’s been said or to review the offers and counter-offers made so far.

But e-mail has its drawbacks.  In an article in the New York Times, Vivian Toy references a study conducted by a Rutgers University business professor who found that people are more likely to lie in an e-mail message than on paper.  There’s also evidence to suggest that people feel they can get away with more in e-mail.  As Toy’s article points out, it’s may be easier for agents to present grossly unattractive offers by e-mail when they know they won’t have to hear their colleague’s disdainful reply. 

So, if you’re going to negotiate using e-mail, here are some things to think about. 

Be careful what you put in writing An e-mail offer or counter-offer is business correspondence and shouldn’t be written on the fly or without thinking. Write it, and then review it to make sure your communication is saying what you really want to say.  It might even be a good idea to hold it in your outbox for a few moments and then to review it once more time before sending it.

Be care who what you’re sending and who you’re sending it to.  Many a person has been done in by hitting the “reply” button when they meant to hit “forward” or by including someone on the distribution list who should not have seen the message.  It’s way too easy to accidentally forward the other agent a message that includes what should have been a confidential strategy discussion between you and your client.

Read every message completely before taking action.  Toy’s article tells of an agent who lost a deal because she misread her client’s instructions, countering $5,000 more when her client had actually instructed her to counter $5,000 less.  Again, maybe the rule should be to read it, set it aside for a few moments, then read it again before responding or taking action.

Don’t use e-mail to handle emotional issues.  Emotion is not conveyed well in writing so if you sense the other party is frustrated, upset or angry, pick up the phone.  And certainly do so if you’re the one feeling the emotion.  It’s far better to talk out disagreements or emotional issues than to try to work them through in writing.

CC with caution.  Think carefully about the pros and cons of cc-ing your clients when negotiating with the other side. While doing so keeps them in the loop and gives them up to the minute information, it also gives them the opportunity to respond directly to a message or offer from the other side—or to send their own messages to the other agent and the other client. You have to decide if that’s a good idea.

Don’t make it look too easy!  The sellers have hired you, in part, to negotiate a good deal on their home.  Consider how unimpressed they’ll be about paying you a fee if you manage to negotiate the sale of their home in less than 30 minutes using e-mail.

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