The 9 Rules of Haggling

Changing the way you think about buying, can help you save money on big ticket items.
September 24, 2012

There’s an assumption among us polite people that negotiating with a seller is asking the impossible, akin to requesting they change how tall they are. But an initial price offered by a seller often isn’t an immutable fact. Until it’s agreed upon by both buyer and seller, a price is merely a proposition offered by one party. The buyer has a say, too, but only if they bargain.

Not absolutely everything is negotiable. That teenager working the counter at Mickey D’s doesn’t have the authority to come down on the price of that chicken sandwich. But in situations where the seller has any autonomy to change the terms of the deal, he or she will—if the conditions are right. But you won’t know unless you ask.

From a lightbulb to a fleet vehicle, there’s almost always a way to get a better deal.

Everything is negotiable…except the address. When applied to bargaining on a broad scale, this saying used by those in the real estate industry essentially means that every detail except the most basic facet can be haggled. Everything else is just an offer.

Get the small stuff thrown in. It’s kind of hard to negotiate a payment plan for a widget. With small things, you can often ask to have them included gratis. Signing a yearlong lease? Ask to have a couple days free to move stuff in. What’s two free days to 365 on the book? With big purchases in general, you get more leeway.

The bigger the deal, the more bargaining you can do. Houses, cars, ten new production computers; anything “big ticket” is pretty much always up for lots of negotiation. You probably need to draw up a contract on anything big, and contracts aren’t carved in stone. The protocol just goes like this: the seller makes an offer (in their stated price), you counter. Back and forth, like a tennis match. This continues until an agreement is made.

Don’t lowball. While (almost) everything is negotiable, and you are allowed a lot more “give” in expensive items, overzealous haggling will turn off the seller. A good rule of thumb is any offer below 25 percent of the ticket price is a slap in the face. It should be noted that this isn’t true everywhere. Some unscrupulous vendors will take advantage of tourists, for example, by quoting an astronomically high price to start, just to see if they’ll pay.

Do your homework. You should have a fair market idea of what the going rate for an item or service is. Don’t be afraid to bring this up. The seller will probably have a reason why this particular item is so far afield from the market value. If they don’t, make it clear you don’t need it.

Be willing to walk away. You can’t negotiate what you need. And when you absolutely must have something, you have no leverage. This is why many people are afraid to haggle on apartment rental rates, for example. Because you absolutely need a place to live—but do you need that specific place? Well, even if you do, don’t let the landlord know it.

Don’t let the seller know how bad you want something. Often we have a romantic notion that a seller will cut us a deal because they know how bad we want something. If this were true, drug dealers would be out of business. The truth is neediness costs leverage. Why should a seller cut you a deal if they know you’ll pay more?

Don’t let them make you feel bad for bargaining. A lot of vendors will pull the guilt trip card if you bargain. Again, all the seller has to do is say no! They are under no obligation at all to take a bad offer. If the option always exists for both parties to decline the terms of the deal, there shouldn’t be pressure.

Respect the seller. Above all else, be cordial! Everybody has to make a living. You can negotiate, but be wary of being disrespectful. Negotiating a deal is one thing. It shows you know what you’re doing. But bargaining in bad faith will do the most damage of all.

Jacob Harper co-founded the Vintage Vice clothing store and apparel brand in 2006 when he was 23. He sold Vintage Vice in 2009 and now works as a teacher and writer.

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