Serious Offers OnlyPosted: December 2, 2013
The other day, I walked past a house for sale. The owner was selling their home without using an agent. They had a sign in the yard with the asking price of the house, a phone number to call and a familiar phrase -
Serious offers only
I thought about how ridiculous that phrase is. Making an offer to buy this, or any, house that was not serious would be pointless. It wouldn’t occur to me to call these people and say “I’ll buy your house for an i-Tunes card, a five-pound bag of Idaho potatoes, a crocheted hat, and either of the two backpacks I have in my closet.”
It wouldn’t occur to me to do that, but if I did and they said “you can’t be serious”, I’d be ready to sweeten my offer. “OK, I’ll throw in a juggling lesson and I will come over and make you a smoothie, but that’s my final offer.” Normally I wouldn’t offer the smoothie, but the house is in such a great neighborhood it’d be hard to walk away just because they didn’t need a backpack.
Who Does That?
As I walked on, I wondered if people really called and made offers that were not serious. It’s rude and not considerate of the seller’s time or the pride they have in their house. Of course, the prospective purchaser has nothing to lose by making the offer. If you agreed to hand over your house for a candle, some candy and a can of corn I’d be serious about my offer and foolish not to accept your agreement.
Then I recalled Peter Minuit’s legendary purchase of Manhattan Island from the native tribes who occupied it. Minuit got the island for twenty-four dollars worth of merchandise. This deal is frequently used as an example of unfairness. It may also be the genesis of the “serious offers only” warning.
Acquiring just about any island for twenty-four dollars is quite a deal for a buyer. To be fair, there wasn’t a subway on the Manhattan at the time that Minuet bought it. Building infrastructure is an expensive proposition. Peter Minuet knew that. So while his offer was serious, he knew he was getting a heck of a deal at the expense of the natives. I think he justified ripping them off by telling himself that he needed to hang on to as much cash as possible.
Minuet made an offer that perhaps he thought would be accepted. He just threw it out there for giggles. When it was accepted, he didn’t say “wait, guys, I’m scamming you”. Peter took the island and ran.
Perhaps when we say “serious offers only” we should say what we really mean. What we ought to say is “don’t be a Peter about it”.