Determining Exactly What the Seller Wants: A Probate Case Study

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I put another wholesale deal under contract a few days ago. Once again I was presented with evidence that day, that I was the only one still in the game at the time they were finally ready to sell the house. I was the only person still mailing to them more than a year after the death of her mother.

When I arrived at the property, I was greeted by one of the two sisters I was meeting. This lady was the same person that had initially called me about the property. She apologized because she had suffered a stroke some years ago and had great difficulty speaking. I told her that was perfectly fine and not to worry about it; my mom had also suffered a stroke and I knew exactly how she felt and just how frustrating it is not to be able to find ‘’your words”. I let her know that I would just look around until her sister arrived. She seemed relieved and grateful for the understanding. The one thing she had clearly conveyed to me, was that this process was overwhelming for her.

Changing Your Sellers Expectations

When I came back in the other sister had arrived. I talked to them about the condition of the property, the price they had initially said they wanted for the house and all of the work that needed to be done. We also discussed what houses were selling for in that area. While we were talking,  I noticed that they had a stack of my direct mail letters sitting there on the table. I wasn’t sure why they kept all of them, but they did.  Another thing that I noticed, was that there were no mail pieces other than mine.

I did what I always do at this point, and that is to try to change the seller’s expectations about the price they think the house is worth.  It’s not unusual for me to begin this process with our first phone call. Once I get to the house, that conversation almost always begins again. I have found that getting sellers to see that they are holding onto an unrealistic price is a process; a process that takes a couple of conversations.

After speaking to them about the property for a few minutes, they mentioned that they had one other person looking at the house. I said that was fine and I asked when the other person was coming. She said that he had already been there, and they would be taking the highest offer. I was pretty sure there was no other investor, but either way that wasn’t going to affect what I could pay for the house.

I thanked them for their time, gave them a ballpark figure of what I thought my offer would be, and I let them know that I would be calling the next day after going over the figures one more time.   I knew that my offer wasn’t going to change, but I wanted them to have time to think about “adjusting their expectations” overnight.

What Was It They Really Wanted?

You always have to find out their true motivation for selling. What is it in addition to money that they need? In this case I figured out pretty quickly that they just couldn’t get the house completely cleaned out and ready to sell. One sister had the problems associated with her medical condition, and the other sister had a full time job. After one year had passed, they still didn’t have the job done. They had reached the point where they just wanted to be finished. They were motivated!

Making the Offer

The next morning I called the seller with my offer. I actually had one offer that included cleaning out the house, and a higher offer where that was not included.  Even though I knew which offer they would accept, I made both offers to them so they would have a choice. Without hesitation she told me to email her a contract that included removing the rest of the personal belongings.  She just asked for two weeks to remove paperwork and the other few personal items the family wanted.  She signed the contract and emailed it back to me within 30 minutes.

By giving them an idea of what my offer would be, and selling them on the benefits of accepting my offer (not having to finish cleaning out the house), they were ready to quickly accept my offer the next day.

About Author

Sharon Vornholt

Sharon has been investing in real estate since 1998. She owned and operated a successful home inspection company for 17 years. In January of 2008 she took the leap of closing her business to become a full time real estate investor.


  1. Carole –

    I have found time and time again that there is almost always something else that they want or need in addition to money. In this case, they were willing to accept a lower price if they didn’t have to clean out the rest of the things in the house. If you listen carefully they will almost always tell you what they really want to make the offer work.

  2. Interesting! I am about to make an offer on a duplex that’s been sitting for over 45 DOM and has a friend living in the front unit for less than half of market rent. I wonder if including movers to help their friend load his truck might sweeten the deal? The back unit is empty and I don’t think they carry a mortgage, so I’ve been brainstorming for simple ways to make my low offer more attractive.

    You’ve given me something to think about.

    • Page-

      When you talk to them, ask what they might need in addition to money to make the deal work. Closing costs often help, and movers might actually might help too. I paid for the movers one time for someone that was dragging their feet, but they told me that was what they wanted.

      On the other hand, they might just accept your offer.


  3. Sharon I was wanting to know if you have any information on the follow up letters that you send out. Is it different from the first one that you send out and if it is could you provide an example of one .

    • Sharon Vornholt

      Jeff –

      They are different, but you just have to change the letters up a bit. For instance, you can say “I just thought I would check in and see how settling the estate is coming”, or “I wanted to check with you to see if you are ready to sell the property in the estate”. The changes are nothing complicated.


  4. Seyed Javaheri

    This question has to do with timing of the probate mail out working with a probate list,
    Would you mail the letter early into probate filing 30,60,or 90 days) or wait til the estate has been Establishment?
    One could assume mailing to an established estate is an easier target since there is a real estate involved.

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