by Brenda McCourt
I recently watched my mother buy a used bicycle from a couple who have been her friends since we moved to Nokomis, Saskatchewan, almost 40 years ago. Mom and these friends are all part of the local bridge playing, church going, choir and gardening set – pretty well everyone in town.
As we stood in the sun in the back yard contemplating the bike, it immediately became clear that they were not bargaining in the conventional way.
Conventional negotiations are easy to understand. They are direct and in accordance with interests. That is, ask high, offer low, seller points out virtues, purchaser points out defects. At higher levels of play there are many additional specialized techniques well known to seasoned lawyers. (Seasoned means you learned the hard way).
Conventional negotiations, however, are child’s play compared to negotiations between small town friends. The object of these negotiations (Small Town Saskatchewan Negotiations, or STSN) include not only arriving at fair market value, but also retaining a good relationship and living up to the ideal of being your brother’s keeper. Here are the basic STSN rules:
- Invitation to treat: This is an invitation to visit, and to see the item in question. May or may not require actual refreshments.
- The preliminary visit: Delay the viewing for an appropriate period, with casual conversation. Don’t be crassly commercial.
- Getting down to business: One party will say: “ Well, maybe we should look at this thing.” It is important not to rush this, or appear overly eager.
- Be very friendly in viewing the item. Potential purchaser should complement potential vendor on the garden, household repairs, etc., if possible, at this point.
- Seller must downplay value of item. “Oh, this old thing – you’d do us a favour to take it off our hands.”
- Buyer admires the item, and points out its good qualities.
- Seller opens with a good lowball offer: “Oh, I should just give it to you.”
- Buyer responds with a good counter offer: “Oh don’t be silly – you’d probably pay $80 for one of these in the city – if you could even find one.” Note: Seller and buyer are not actually offering these amounts – they are just setting parameters.
- Seller, to buy some time, tactfully moves the conversation to the lateness of the tomatoes this year, too much cold weather, etc., then says “Well, how about $25?”
- Buyer must now raise the bidding: “Oh no – how about $50.”
- Seller now must denigrate the item (point out a bit of rust), then name a final price: “Well, $40 and not a dollar more.”
- The purchaser pays in cash, no documentation, no taxes – seller may insist upon free delivery to the buyer’s home.
- If the item breaks down immediately, or is found to have some latent defect, this information will find its way back to the seller, and there will be an offer of refund, using the principles outlined above.
- The pairing of unequally matched players, (i.e., an inexperienced player with a novice), or the use of an undeclared variation on the basic rules, can lead to sales at other than fair market value.
- Any error in arriving at fair market value can be rectified in the next transaction.
Brenda McCourt is a Vancouver lawyer and mediator.
This article was published in the December 2001 issue of BarTalk. © 2001 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.