Further proof that Anna is pretty much the coolest chick on the planet

No. 2,347: Anna vs. the Car Salesman. For the past month or so, we've been shopping for a car. We narrowed our choices to a Toyota Highlander, a Honda CRV, and a Subaru Outback or Legacy wagon. We studied safety ratings, read everything Consumer Reports had to say about each, compared consumer feedback, and took each for a test drive. We settled on a Subaru a couple of weeks ago, and after crunching the numbers and reluctantly abandoning hope for a moon roof, we decided to go with the Outback. I tell you all of this so you understand the amount of work that went into the decision about what kind of car to buy. Now, imagine that amount squared, or maybe even cubed. That should give you a sense of the magnitude of the effort Anna put into the actual purchase. She researched the Kelly Blue Book value of our trade-in, found invoice prices for various Outback models, learned about all the tactics salespeople play while negotiating a deal, and figured out precisely what she was and wasn't willing to pay. She was fully prepared for this, and even said she was looking forward to haggling. We made an appointment for last Friday, told them the model, color and options we wanted, and they promised to have more than one waiting for us.

I had my car detailed Friday afternoon, hoping the investment might help our negotiating position on the trade-in value. Anna was hoping for somewhere between $1200 and $1500, but I would've taken $1000 and considered it a steal. Without the detail job, I wouldn't have given you $800 for it: 1995 Honda Civic, 100K+ miles, body damage, "check engine" light on (it needs about $500 in engine work), cracked front windshield, recent hail damage, smells like it was driven by a smoker, interior covered in dog hair. Do I hear $750? So, I take the car to get it detailed, and they are running late. Anna picks me up at the house at 4:00, and we decide that she should go ahead and go to the dealership without me. She's already forbidden me from speaking during these negotiations, so I certainly won't be missed.

By the time I make it to the dealership, Anna and Michael, our sales guy, are already deep into the negotiations. He shakes my hand on his way out of the office, heading next door to make a phone call to his sales manager with Anna's latest offer. She fills me in: they are still pretty far apart, and he keeps insisting that the invoice price on the car is $1300 higher than any of the invoice prices she found on the web. "He's pulling every trick the websites said he would." In her auto shopping research, Anna had come across multiple sites that warned of dubious sales tactics, all of which Michael had tried, without success. He returned to the room, showed Anna their counter-offer, and suggested that he take a look at our trade-in. We watched as he walked around the car, noting all the defects I listed above. We headed back to his office and he made what he called "a generous offer" of $900. Anna looked incredulous. After seeing the detail job, she was leaning more toward the $1500 end of her anticipated range. $900 was an insult, and their counter-offer wasn't much better. That's when Michael pulled out the four-square worksheet. "No!" Anna was adament. "No worksheet. I know about the worksheet. Put it away." Michael froze. I'm fairly certain he had never encountered this reaction before, because he had no idea how to respond. He tried several tacks, in succession:

Tack 1: Stick with the gameplan. "This worksheet is very useful." Not a good move. Anna isn't budging on the issue of the worksheet, which is apparently a standard device employed by sales people in their efforts to pry your money away from you. Anna is growing increasingly impatient with these sales tactics, which are reinforcing her belief that Michael's trying to take more of her money than he deserves. Continuing to argue the pragmatic utility of the worksheet is hopeless, and even counterproductive. Unfortunately, poor Michael doesn't realize this quickly enough, though he eventually puts the worksheet aside.

Tack 2: Feigned accommodation. "OK, Anna. You've got me. What is it going to take? What's your best offer?" Anna writes two numbers on a piece of paper - one, the amount we're willing to pay for the car; the second, the amount we'll accept for our trade-in. Michael takes the paper and again heads out of the office to talk to his manager. I tell her that $900 isn't a totally unreasonable offer, and that a couple of hundred dollars when you're talking about thousands isn't such a big deal. The dealership is located in far south Austin, and it took more than an hour to make it here. I told Anna that I didn't want to drive back and forth again over a difference of $2 a month. She reminded me that that was precisely why I wasn't allowed to talk, and told me not to get anxious. They'd cleverly parked the car just outside the window of Michael's office, a brilliant tactic that's probably sealed hundreds of deals. Anna was impervious. Michael returned with another counter-offer that still didn't reach the compromise range Anna hoped for. They stared at each other in frustration as I fought back my fiercest consumer impulses. But Anna held her ground, and Michael left the room once again, determined to make the sale, and now growing visibly frustrated.

Tack 3: A firm and final offer. "This is the best I can do." The numbers are written in thick black ink, and below them a note: "We appreciate your business, but this is our best and final offer." This was it. They'd moved enough that Anna could walk away with a sense of victory, however minor, and we would have our shiny new car that afternoon, in plenty of time for me to drive it to Houston for the Astros game on Monday (such are my priorities, the reason Anna is in charge of these sorts of things). Michael looked at her nervously. This former Navy pilot's hands were literally
trembling as she stared at the sheet. She didn't blink: "Well, thank you Michael, but that's not going to do it. Let's go." And we left. We just stood up and walked out. I thanked Michael, both of us slightly in shock as we shook hands.

Anna was just awesome. Even though it meant we'd have to drive back again if we didn't actually find a better deal, and that I might not get the new car for the trip to Houston, I was proud of her. "Just wait," she said, "they'll call."

Anna was at breakfast Saturday morning when Michael called to say that after further consideration, his boss had decided to accept her offer. She let him leave a voicemail, and didn't answer when he tried her twice more before she made it back home around 1:00. She finally called him back just before we left to talk to another dealer. "Thanks, Michael. I'll talk it over with Dave and we'll think about it. We're going to stop by another dealership, but we might be by after that...if we're still looking." She said that Michael sounded panicked. He warned her that cars at other lots might have hail damage. Anna told him thanks, but that we'd already made an appointment, then she hung up.

To make a long story short, Anna's haggling wound up getting us twice as much for our trade-in, $1500 less than HER lowest offer at the other dealership, and 1% lower financing on a car that included two equipment upgrades and a custom sound system. She is good, people. Michael called again after we were home with the new car. Anna didn't want to talk to him, but I took great pride in telling him how badly he'd been beaten: "She got twice as much for our trade-in, a percentage point better financing, and $1500 under the offer you accepted on a car with better features." He sounded like he'd been kicked in the gut. "Well, uh, okay then." That's all he said before I hung up.

No. 2,348: Anna passes up a spot on the Vans Warped Tour. So, I'm watching Clemens and Hudson duke it out with Glen and Wes when I get a call from Anna. She's pregnant, so I am obligated to answer it, even though it is otherwise a clear violation of masculine etiquette. She is calling to tell me that her band, The (Revenge of the) Bad Apples, have been invited to play on the Vans Warped Tour. Luckily, it didn't take a lot of convincing for her to decide against even doing the three Texas shows in late-June, the logisitics of the event being somewhat sketchy w/r/t pregnancy accommodations. But still, how cool would it be to tell your kid that his mom played guitar on the Warped Tour while she was pregnant with him? Cool or criminally negligent, or maybe a little of both.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm so proud of my little girl.

11:12 AM  
Anonymous dirtyweekender said...

I sent this to my Mom, who is a master negotiator. I knew she'd enjoy it because she likes to hear about the deals made by other good negotiators. My Mom lives out of state and hasn't met Anna yet, but she called me at work after she read this to tell me how happy she was that I had such a smart friend. I told her I was, too.

9:57 AM  
Blogger Silver Zephyr said...


12:07 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home