Among the dizzying array of “reality” television shows is a spate of programming documenting the sale of expensive real estate. As it turns out, our family is acquainted with a regular on the one such broadcast called Selling New York, so we routinely tune in and follow the travails of the merry band of brokers, buyers and sellers. Part “Business Week” and part “Architectural Digest,” the homes being considered rarely fall below the million dollar mark and routinely range in the eight figures. As corresponds with such rarified air, the parties to the transaction are, well, interesting. Often confirming that considerable wealth affords for eccentricity even as it likewise pays for Bulgari, these programs also illustrate important points about human nature.
With negotiations underway, humans operate in a predictable and often emotional way. The valiant brokers scramble to assemble a deal where the seller – often already realizing millions in profit on the property – is offended by the buyer – often more concerned with the cosmetic than the structural – as these two parties work to find common ground and mutual benefit. The able realtor works to point to the shared success of the transaction – one is selling a property that is no longer suited to his needs and the other is finding a new home which accomplishes many of his requirements. Yet an inability or unwillingness to see the perspective of the other often takes the arrangement to impasse. When negotiations have stalled, a party will declare this is my best and final offer. It functions as an ultimatum, a last word and a gauntlet. Sometimes the tactic pushes the deal to close. Often, the parties walk away without consummation. Is this a failure of the system or simply the market at work? Are we mistaken to seek compromise when we might pursue brinksmanship?