The art of negotiating


Picture courtesy of jacme31

Can commercial negotiation skills help when buying art? Private Art Investor asked James Thomas, a consultant, coach and public speaker on the subject of commercial negotiation, how to get the best deal.

“If you don’t ask, you don’t get! You’re looking after your best interests, not the seller’s, so don’t talk yourself out of negotiating,” says commercial negotiator James Thomas.

It’s a good philosophy for commercial negotiation but also holds true when buying art. Whether you are dealing with a dealer or buying from a gallery, haggling may be more of an option than you realise.

“In general, try to get out of your own head and into theirs,” says Thomas. Many people will probably be surprised if you don’t negotiate with them, especially outside the gallery setting.

“Even worse they’ll feel little satisfaction in not being made to work for their money and get greedy. They’ll ask you for more,” he warns.

However, he adds that there may be times when it is less acceptable to haggle – for example, when you have a long term trusting relationship, you could lose the seller’s respect by always asking for a discount. They’ll stop dealing with you and word will get around.

Buying directly from the artist is also a tricky proposition: this scenario introduces the psychological factors of ego and emotions.

“The artwork is the artist’s baby and woe betide anyone who asks for a discount or tries to haggle. It’s their livelihood. Also, the buyer may feel it more disrespectful to negotiate with the artist than hiding behind the safety curtain of a gallery,” says Thomas.

In contrast, buying from a gallery or third party means that you take emotion out of the deal.

“The gallery may have a ballpark guide price for the item from the artist but ultimately they need to move the piece,” says Thomas.

The key to successful negotiation is preparation. Thomas recommends that you do your research of the market. Find out the prices paid for similar items, find out the latest trends in the market, and examine supply and demand.

How much of a discount can you expect to achieve? “Consider this,” says Thomas. “Negotiation is not about what you want nor what the market says it’s worth. Negotiation is whatever someone is willing to sell it for or buy it for. Their walkaway position is more likely to be influenced by the pressure they feel to sell the item.”

For this reason, it is advantageous to know why they are selling it. You also need to know your ‘walk away’ point and stick to it.

“Be firm with your offer. Don’t use submissive or soft language that reveals to the other party you’re moveable,” says Thomas. “Ask lots of questions and listen carefully for ‘tells’ from the seller. Appeal to the ego and they’ll start to talk.”

Another useful weapon is silence: “stop talking and don’t justify or apologise,” he suggests.

Finally, don’t be afraid to walk away.

“This is easier when there is no emotional attachment to the item being sold. Consider a third party to negotiate for you,” he adds.


Image courtesy of Creative Commons – Jacme31