Negotiating a used car directly with owner
April 29, 2013 6:05 PM   Subscribe

My fiance and I are buying our first used car together and we're looking for advice on negotiating a price. We've found a car we like that's being sold directly through the owner. Most posts we've found discuss negotiating with a dealer though.

The car (2008 Honda Fit) is listed for $9000, but we're hoping to get it for closer to $8000. The owners have listed it for 6 months and only had a few people interested in it. I don't know how low is too low to initially offer. Or if we should mention defects we noticed while driving it (needs a wheel re-alignment, etc.). We'll be communicating mostly through email. We're located in Canada, if that matters. I've had a look through "Don't get taken every time", but it too appears directed more at people who are purchasing their vehicle from a dealer.
posted by Proginoskes to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Negotiating over email is a really bad idea. What has always worked for me is having cash on hand and offering what I think it's worth. Actually showing money makes it more real, I think, because people are way more likely to agree if you actually pull out your wallet.
posted by zug at 6:12 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Offer them $8000 cash. They'll either take it, counter offer, or sell it to someone else.

Dealers are negotiating on their margin. Private sellers are trying to sell a car. If you think the seller is trying to scam you, don't buy their car. In return, don't treat them like they're trying to scam you if they're not.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:18 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think negotiating with a private seller is simpler, because they're far less likely to be playing the sort of games that dealers do. They aren't going to try to sell you some other car that's more profitable for them, or offer you a high-interest loan or rustproofing or an overpriced extended warranty. I've had good luck being honest and direct, e.g. 'Well, I'm seriously interested in your car, but I have a couple of concerns I want to bounce off of you. First, when we were driving around I noticed X and Y symptoms that make me think it might need a front-end alignment or something, so I'd like to have my mechanic take a look at it. Would that be okay with you? Great, I appreciate that. The other thing is, I've researched this car pretty carefully and from what I can tell your asking price is a little high. From what I can see it's probably worth about $8,000, and that's a price we'd be perfectly comfortable with, but of course we don't know if you have that kind of flexibility."

It's just an adult conversation. You don't need any magic tricks for this. Empathize with the sellers, be respectful, kind and direct. If they don't want to sell it at a price you think is reasonable, then there won't be a deal and that's okay.
posted by jon1270 at 6:33 PM on April 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

Go see the car on a Friday or a Sunday.

On Friday, people are in a good mood and ready to start the weekend with some extra cash.

On Sunday, someone who just spent the whole weekend showing the car to uninterested prospects will start getting impatient.
posted by daisies at 6:36 PM on April 29, 2013

Best answer: Seconding jon1270. I have sold a car as a private seller and bought a car as a private seller. Both times it was a surprisingly easy, comfortable transaction. The seller has a car that they don't know the exact value of; you want to buy a car that you don't know the exact value of. Most likely both of you are more interested in avoiding getting screwed than you are in screwing the other person, you know?

Just be ready to walk away if they skeeve you out or if you can't get the car for the price you want (it's possible that the seller wants an irrational price for the vehicle, and just because they're asking too much doesn't mean you'll be able to talk them out of it). And OF COURSE get it checked out by a mechanic before you agree to anything.
posted by mskyle at 6:45 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I buy and sell cars as a private seller all the time, it is not a big deal. I always try to be up-front, fair, and candid with buyers and sellers. As a seller, I take LOTS of photos of my car and describe every bit of it accurately. I price it generally about 5-7% above what I hope to get, and 15% or so above my rock bottom price.

I accept anyone's offer that is at or above what I hope to get. Whether someone can get one of my cars at my rock bottom prices depends on how they have treated me - were they on time? Were they polite and fair in their emails? Were they rude or rubbed me the wrong way in making their offer? And most importantly, how much hassle are they likely to cause me? For example, I am much more likely to take a lower price from someone who has cash in hand and is prepared to drive away with the car *that instant* than someone who has to stop by the bank later. And I would never accept a rock bottom price offer via email or on the phone.

When I buy or sell, I always show up with a good bill of sale that is clear and covers everything important, as well as a photocopy of my picture ID. When I pull out the paperwork, I hand them the copy of my picture ID, then ask for a copy of theirs. I then photograph their picture ID with my phone. Not a single buyer or seller has balked at this in roughly a dozen car transactions in three states.

As a buyer, I do my research ahead of time. I get the CARFAX (I pay, and I offer to give a copy to the seller if I'm feeling nice or if they don't feel like getting the VIN), and often pay to get it inspected by a dealership or trusted mechanic (usually runs around $140, at least with Mazda, Toyota and VW). I check the KBB value. Whether or not KBB accurately represents a car's value, it appears to hold as the gold standard for used car pricing. If the seller has the car priced above KBB, even if I think it is worth more than it, I print a copy of the KBB rating and bring it with me to the purchase. When I've done this I've invariably succeeded in getting a better price.

Generally I try to pay a little less than KBB, but not massively more than that. I look for very good deals, but not insanely good deals (because if it is too good to be true, it is in the used car market). I'm interested in being satisfied at the end of the transaction - and having the other party be satisfied as well.

If I use a cashier's check (either as buyer or seller) I complete the transaction in the bank's parking lot, during business hours, AFTER the check has passed muster inside. I never buy cars with liens, never buy salvage/flood titles.

Anecdata: the only two times I've bought a car at a dealership, I've been very unhappy. In all the times I've bought a car from a private seller, I haven't been let down once. At this point, I only consider private transactions.
posted by arnicae at 9:35 PM on April 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

I bought a car from a private seller. It was really easy. My negotiating strategy was very simple, because actually they were asking a fair price ($4000) and the car had no issues, but I didn't want to pay that much.

So I said, "I don't really want to pay that much."
And then I waited a bit until the silence got kind of awkward.

And they dropped their price to $3500

And I said, "I'd rather pay $3000". And there was a long pause, and then they said okay.

And then they threw in new tyres for no good reason at all.

Private sellers can be awesome, because sometimes they are nice honest people who just want to get a price somewhere near what they were expecting. These things are not the same for professional car dealers.
posted by lollusc at 1:53 AM on April 30, 2013

I will say one thing. Before you offer dime one on this automobile, spend $100 and take it to a mechanic to get it thoroughly checked out.

Then price it on KBB, NADA and Edmonds. This will give you an idea of what a fair price is for the car. A Carfax is also a good idea.

Once the car checks out, offer what you think is a fair price for the car. After 6 months, they may be very happy to accept what you're offering.

If you can't come to an agreement. Walk away. There are plenty of cars out there.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:13 AM on April 30, 2013

Best answer: I sold cars for a living and a lot of my advice on buying a car from a dealership holds true for buying a car from a private seller. Be up-front and honest and don't be afraid to show a commitment to buying the car (within reason). If you like the car and want to buy it, say so. Nothing motivates a person to sell a car like a buyer who wants to buy one.

If at all possible, negotiate face-to-face. After you drive it and you're sure you want to buy the car (pending a mechanics inspection), you could say something like, "I'd like to have my mechanic inspect it first but I think I want to buy the car but it's a little out of my budget and it looks like it needs a wheel alignment (and whatever other significant repairs it might need) so if you can sell it for $8,000, I'll buy it."

Then don't say anything until after he responds no matter how awkward it gets. He'll be having an internal argument trying to justify selling it at your price or trying to come up with a counter offer and you need to let that play out. If you interrupt his thought process, it will default to a, "No."

Ideally, you want to agree on a price before you take it to a mechanic because you don't want to spend money for the inspection until you know you have a deal but it's not a hill to die on or anything. The mechanic will almost certainly find something (they tend to feel kind of obligated to so they feel like they're bringing some value) but unless it's something major, it shouldn't really change the deal. You're buying a used car so it's assumed that it needs some minor maintenance and/or repairs and that is already reflected in the price (it's mentioned in the condition descriptions).
posted by VTX at 8:47 AM on April 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

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