“What about the salesman’s time?”

I had a truly wonderful day yesterday. I picked up my mother, age 98, at 10:00 AM to take her to buy a new car. There is nothing wrong mechanically with her old car but it is ten years old and although there are only 16,000 miles on the vehicle my mother’s driving has put a few scratches on the four corners of the bumpers and Florida heat has not been kind to the interior so she has decided it is time.

The price of the car is not a major factor but my mother is short in stature so she needs a small car and because of her age and her consideration for my time and trouble, she has decided that she wishes to lease this vehicle so that I will not have to worry about disposing of the new car when she passes on.

We stopped in nine dealerships. Several of the cars simply did not fit her stature although they were priced reasonably and met her needs. A few others were suitable but did not offer a reasonable lease program. Two other dealerships seemed to be stuck in a time warp where the salesman’s opening gambit was to ask me what I wanted to pay. My response was “nothing” or “as little as possible” and they refused to quote a price until I came up with a starting number. Not wishing to negotiate with myself we thanked them for their time and departed.

At 3:00 PM we ended up at a Hyundai dealership near her home and the Accent seemed to suit her needs. The car’s MSRP is $16,320 and dealer invoice is $15,894 and, as the money factor today is near zero and the car has a reasonably good residual, I quickly guesstimated that the lease price should approximate $200 to $215/month on a “sign and drive”. When the salesman returned with a price of $309 I thanked him and asked my mother to get up so that we could go home.

The salesman, apparently not used to this response, responded by asking me what I thought the number should be and I told him the $200 to $215 that I had roughly calculated. My mother and I continued to get up to leave when the sales manager came over with the anticipated and, I assume, automatic response of “I have great news; we are very close to your price”. I thanked him and proceeded toward the door with my mother. He ran after me and asked did I not wish to know what the price was and I said “no” as “very close” was not close enough but he continued to speak saying that we were only $30 apart.

I thanked him again and continued to walk toward the door and he then said something that I had never heard before – “what about the salesman’s time that he has invested with you?” I probably should have ignored that statement but I was tired and it seemed simply too good to pass up so I responded: “if you were truly concerned about the salesman’s time you would not have highballed me to begin with. But, more importantly, what about my mothers and my time which you have needlessly wasted with your pricing games?”

My mother and I walked out to my car, followed in sequence by the sales manager, general manager and salesman. I explained that my mother was 98 years old and too tired to stay out any longer and that we were going home. The general manager told me they would meet my price and was somewhat shocked when I responded that perhaps I was not clear but we were leaving as my mother was tired but we would think about their offer and get back to them on Thursday.

I am very glad that I am not poor or have bad credit but I have a strong sympathy for people who are not that fortunate as it seems to me that an auto customer is usually at a disadvantage and often at the mercy of the auto dealers and salespeople who will grind the customer down for a few hundred dollars or more if they can get it.

That is one of the many great things about homebuilding and the business of selling new homes. We are typically a retail business. The price is the price and even in the challenging past few years where negotiation has become more common, I have never seen nor heard of a salesperson or a builder taking advantage of the buyer.

I have always believed that a great new home salesperson makes a friend of the customer. If the new home salesperson cannot sell the buyer a home that meets their needs then they should direct and assist them in finding the right home. That creates a strong basis for referrals and potential future business. And never in the homebuilding business would you hear “what about the salesman’s time that he has invested with you?” as you never waste a friend’s time as it is their pleasure to spend it with you.

But that’s just my opinion.

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