Make Friends Not Enemies: Don’t Forget Your Image in Negotiations

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We were 48 hours away from closing on the deal when our real estate agent called and said “The seller is asking for some compensation for the oil in the oil tank.

When I asked how much oil was in there, my agent didn’t know. She said the seller had indicated the tank had been filled recently and had quite a bit of oil in it.

I said that it was not in the contract and I was not prepared to arbitrarily choose an amount of money to give her for oil that might not actually be there when we take possession in a few days. My agent agreed and said that the seller should have included this in the contract before she accepted the offer.

Later that day our lawyer called. One of the adjustments that had come through from the sellers lawyer included a $600 charge for oil in the oil tank.

My husband Dave lost it. He said “What if we show up on Friday and there’s only a little bit of oil in the tank? We aren’t paying it.”

Apparently it costs about $1,200 to fill the tank of oil so I understand why the seller was feeling a bit slighted but this should have been negotiated earlier in the deal. She hadn’t brought it up at any point during the negotiation and we hadn’t even thought about it.

Dave was on the phone with the lawyer for nearly 30 minutes trying to settle this issue when finally our lawyer said:

“Dave, it’s better to make friends, not enemies.”

This actually frustrated Dave because he was thinking “Yea – why isn’t someone saying that to the seller who has picked some price out of the air to charge me for oil that might not even be there?”

But the lawyer went on to propose a fair solution. He said “Let’s agree to have the oil measured by Columbia fuels and you pay the cost of half of whatever is left.”

The lawyer went on the remind him that it’s a small world and we’re very active investors. We don’t need somebody out there saying bad things about us or our company over this.

Dave relaxed and realized our lawyer was right. In the grand scheme of things, even if we paid the $600, is it really that big of a deal if it makes this elderly lady happy and settles this deal quickly and painlessly? Besides, if we carried on much longer we’d end up spending $600 in legal fees anyway.

The seller agreed to have the oil tank measured before we closed a day and a bit later, and off we went.

We’re not sure if there was a massive amount of oil or very little in the tank, because the seller opted to drain the tank instead. When we arrived on Friday there was no oil in the tank and we didn’t owe the seller any money. It was a big hooplah for nothing but we did gain a very important reminder from the experience:

It’s better to make friends not enemies. Remember the bigger picture in your dealings even when something is not fair to you.

Warren Buffet put it best when he said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

About Author

Buy and hold real estate investing in Canada since 2001, Julie Broad is now a full time real estate investor and investing educator.


  1. This is some real sage advice, Julie. It would be so easy to tell the other party to shove it, but in the end, by protecting your image and reputation, you’re working for the long-haul. In the end, her draining of the tanks was probably the best result for all parties.

    • It was the best result – and it was the first thing we’d suggested to the seller but she was hung up on getting cash. It’s always good to have someone on your team that can look at the bigger picture on your behalf. When you’re deep into it, sometimes it’s hard to take a look at things from the high level!!

    • Haha! Isn’t that the truth? I could see it too … the juiciest deal you ever did see and it happens to be the niece of this woman who owned this house. It’s a small world and that is quite likely exactly what could happen!! And you’d never know it. Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People has some good lessons in it to help you avoid being in this situation too. One of his points that I always try to remind myself of is the fact that you NEVER win an argument. Even if you get granted the fact that you are RIGHT you have probably actually lost because you’ve damaged that relationship forever.

      Thanks, as always! for your great comments.

  2. Wow, what a crazy story Julie! I definitely believe it. In my experience, anything can happen in this business.

    I can definitely relate. Sometimes things come up at the last minute right before closing that were not negotiated in the paperwork beforehand. One time, a seller actually took all of the lightbulbs out of the home before closing. When I met with the seller to do a final walk through, I noticed the lightbulbs were gone and we had a bit of an argument over the missing lightbulbs. But, I (like you) believe in your statement to “make friends, not enemies.” So, I let it go.

    As always, I enjoyed reading your article. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Hi Julie,

    I could not agree more with your blog. You are clearly one smart investor who is ethical with their dealings with general members of public. It was all for nothing in the end, and probably seller would have tried to make a fast buck had they been dealing with an amateur buyer. The seller should consider themselves luckly that they have found buyers for their property rather than arguing over $1200.

    I hope that this is a very sound investment for your portfolio and one that makes you a lot of money.

    Learnt a lot about negotitations skills and I think I may have picked up a tip – always check contents of oil tanks if sellers wants money for it!



  4. Author: Bilgefisher
    Too funny, I just had a similar thing happen on my current renovation. Several of the lights hold 3-4 small bulbs. They were nice enough to leave one per light box.

    Hi Bilgefisher,

    Thats an interesting experience – thanks for sharing that. Whenever, I buy a house – I ensure that sellers give me a list of items that they will leave behind – some of them could be useful rewarding such as a Victorian Dining Table Chairs worth at least $1,500 if not more that I inheritated recently. Seller was down sizing and needed to sell house quickly to move on – and she didnt have a place to put all her belonging so she asked me if I would mind keeping that with house – I yes thats fine.

    I wonder why people take bulbs with them as they are worth pennies! And they will invariably break or lose their fuse during transit anyway?

    I await your comments,


    • Thanks Shae!! Our tenant called on the weekend and said he is not sure the furnace is working so now we’re wondering if she drained the oil to cover up the fact that the furnace is on the fritz… there was a massive snow fall and cold snap here over the weekend so our tenant – and us – were fortunate that the house has a couple of wood fireplaces to heat the place up given that the furnace wasn’t working properly. Nice hey??

  5. Richard Dale-Mesaros, REIM on

    Hi Julie,

    Too right…. we often seemed to get to a closing table and the issue of prorating the oil in the tank came up right at the end, with no-0ne having checked the oil level in the tank etc. Even though in our P+S it states fuel is to be prorated, having to ask our buyer to come up with a check for their share created a strained atmosphere. We have since avoided this through having a detailed pre-closing checklist, along with the post-closing checklist, the scope of work checklist…. you get my drift! 🙂

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