What Does “Transparent Pricing” Mean for Home Buyers?

“Transparent pricing” has been introduced as a corrective to underpricing and resultant disappointment and confusion for home buyers.

By , J.D.

As anyone quickly learns when buying a home, real estate properties are advertised with a "list price," which is set by the sellers. Less well understood, however, is what that price actually means—with the result that when a term like "transparent pricing" comes along, it's even more confusing.

Of course, buying a home is not like buying a donut, in which each item of merchandise is more or less the same and there's little negotiating over what amount the seller will accept. Beyond that, however, what a home's "price tag" literally means tends to vary by region and by seller. In some situations, the seller has little intention of actually accepting an offer that comes in at the list price amount, and is hoping for offers far above that amount. In other (less common) cases, the seller will attach a high price to the property and wait to be bid down. Broadly speaking, these can all be described as "strategic pricing" practices.

Such pricing practices can be especially confusing for first-time home buyers. "Transparent pricing" has been introduced as a corrective to such confusion.

Sellers Need Not Accept a Full-Price Offer

The first thing for house-hunters to understand is that a home's list price is mainly a starting point for negotiations. Prospective real estate buyers can, depending on how the house compares to others on the market and how desperately they actually want to own it, bid either higher or lower than the list price.

This flexibility for sellers mean they can act strategically, or in accord with local real estate traditions and practices, when setting a list price.

This has been taken to extremes in hot markets (as currently exist in places like the California Bay Area and other sought-after cities), where sellers are known to set the list price artificially, even egregiously low—tens of thousands of dollars lower than what they hope to bring in. The idea is to entice multiple home-seekers to at least come take a look. With any luck, the sellers hope, that will create a quasi-auction, in which buyers bid well above list price, and the seller walks away with a price that might seem artificially (even egregiously!) high.

Of course, it also creates disappointed and frustrated would-be home buyers, who might ultimately give up on the market altogether.

How Transparent Pricing Works

A home seller who advertises that he or she is using transparent pricing is essentially saying, "The price I've listed is really, truly a price I could accept for this property." Buyers who can afford that price can tour the house with some confidence, knowing that, in the absence of an all-out bidding war, it's worth their time to put in an offer at or near the price listed.

Buyers can also feel hopeful that the seller won't counteroffer at a higher price. Still, a counteroffer on price remains possible, particularly in a situation where multiple bids come in regardless of the seller's efforts to set a realistic price. Also, the seller can always counteroffer on other terms of the bid, such as closing date or to add or remove a contingency from the contract. (See Home Buying Timeline: From Offer to Purchase Contract for more on this part of the process.)

Transparent pricing doesn't exist in most parts of the United States. And there are definitely regions where the list price is normally a price the seller will accept without having to separately advertise its transparency!

What's more, transparent pricing is still rare in areas of the country where it is being used. Nevertheless, in the right situation, advertising that the price is a transparent one can benefit both sellers and buyers who want to come to a quick and clear understanding over a home sale.

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