Having just moved from Toronto to Oregon, it was a very interesting series of negotiations to get us there in one piece. Some of the most intriguing negotiations involved the sale of our Toronto house and the purchase of our Eugene house, in part because of the contrast in styles of our two agents.

In Eugene, we really required an agent’s help for a number of reasons, being so unfamiliar with the Oregon procedures legally and practically, and to our agent’s credit, he and his team went above and beyond the call of duty in answering questions as varied as “how do we clarify lot line issues?” to “Who can we get cable from?”

Traditionally around many North American jurisdictions, a house purchase transaction involves almost no direct contact between buyer and seller, with the agents doing most if not all of the talking. In our purchase of the Eugene property, we were obliged to complete the purchase negotiations in stages while in a different country, which made it even harder to have any direct input. To the credit of our agent, Dave Koester, he encouraged us to deliver an “offer letter” with our offer, explaining the background of our offer and developing at least a paper relationship with the sellers. As corny as it may sound, I believe it helped. We got a nice letter back from the sellers with their counter-offer. When we replied with our response to the counter-offer, it was a response that could easily have been seen as harsh, in that we did not raise the dollar amount of our offer. By sending a further letter explaining our response, we were able to minimize the negative reaction and assumptions that might have resulted. Our explanation focused on an explanation of the many objective criteria that had led to our offer. It also identified our reluctance to leap upwards in price not as an attempt to lowball them, but as a consequence of our very real fears that the US housing market was going to continue going down, not up, and leave us with a much less valuable asset.

The result was ultimately a price that everyone was comfortable with, and I’m happy to say that we maintained a good relationship with the sellers despite having only one brief chance to see them face to face due to the circumstances of the purchase. When we moved in, we had a wonderful package of background material, manuals, recommendations and other things (even a listing of all the garden’s plants) waiting when we arrived in our new house, including a bottle of their favourite wine. And I can happily say that we are quite pleased with our new home ourselves.

Part of the reason for that satisfaction is the research we put into the available housing in Eugene before we ever bought (and even after we bought). Over the course of two months, we scanned the MLS regularly to get a sense of what was available and what we liked. Eventually, before going to Eugene to scout prospects on the ground, we did a concerted review of more than 30 “hot prospects”, comparing notes and creating a spreadsheet comparing all of the interests that we had in a house (things like a good view, a nice low maintenance garden, interesting character, a location in biking distance to the university, and various other desires). From that list we were able to quickly and logically narrow the list to 14 really hot prospects, which actually varied considerably in price and location, but all had the potential to make us happy.

Our first trip to Eugene, we visited every one of those houses and a few others suggested by our realtor. By the end of that trip we had a very concrete idea of what would satisfy us, and by making it concrete, we were able to flesh out our interests much more. My wife, for example, had been very reluctant to buy or even look at a hillside house. When we visited some, however, she was surprised to find how attracted she was by the gorgeous views. In exploring why she was reluctant to get a hillside house, it turned out there were two primary concerns. One was the risk of water intrusion (a very real risk in the rainy hills of Eugene and one that our agent echoed). Some of the houses had great views, but looked like they might get a lot of runoff hitting them. Her second concern was that the houses in the hills tended to be more than 4-5 km from the university and too high up to bike back to. That echoed one of my concerns in that I wanted to be close to a neighbourhood with shops and restaurants in easy reach for a Sunday stroll.

By clarifying our interests, we were able to end up with a house on the top of a hill in the center of town that had a great view of the Willamette Valley and the hills of Eugene, and that had no serious risk of water intrusion and (as verified by a home inspection) no history of water leakage, all within 2 km of the university and just a few blocks from a wide variety of funky shops and restaurants. By doing our research, we had the confidence that we had received a great value home, at a very fair price, that was going to make us both very happy, having met all of our key interests.

As for the Toronto sale, more about that anon…

Paul Godin, Stitt Feld Handy Group