Lazy Doesn’t Buy Houses: Making Offers to Seemingly Unmotivated Sellers

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Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work. – Thomas Edison

Mistakes made and lessons learned seem to be topics that investors are interested in. Why not learn from mistakes of others so that we can avoid them ourselves?

I wish I could say that it was difficult to come up with a mistake that I’ve made. In reality it was difficult to choose which one, as I’ve made a lot of mistakes!

I’ve been getting a lot of leads and I tend to get a little lazy when it comes to wanting to go and look at the houses; this is a huge mistake to make!

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Most Sellers Will Not Start With A Great Asking Price

Great Asking PriceThe problem is that most sellers will try to hide their motivation and will not give you a good price when they first talk to you on the phone. I tend to focus on the ones that seem really motivated and give a reasonable asking price from the get go. This is the lazy way of doing things and leaves a lot of deals and profit on the table. Don’t fall into this trap.

One of the most important questions to ask a seller during the initial phone call is, “How much is owed on the house?” Most sellers, motivated or not, will tell you the honest answer to this. Beginning investors hesitate to ask this question because they feel it is too prying. Don’t worry about it. You are trying to help the seller, and in order to do so, you need this information. You need to ask the question in the same way you ask how many bedrooms the house has. It’s a normal question and you need the answer.

More important than how much they are asking, is what they are willing to take. If they owe more than you could ever possibly offer them (and they are not in a situation that lends itself to a short sale), you don’t need to waste your time or their time. They may mention a high asking price, but only owe a fraction of that amount. These are the ones that you must go and look at, if there is any inkling of motivation.

After looking at several unmotivated sellers‘ houses and having your offers rejected, there is a temptation to feel that most sellers will not be interested in what you are going to offer. Many opportunities will be lost as you weed out a lot of possible deals in order to save yourself the trouble and hassle of going to see the houses because the seller did not ‘seem’ that motivated. Don’t do this.

Regardless Of What You Assume, If There Is Room, Make An Offer

If there is enough equity in the house, you need to go and see it AND make an offer. A lot of the time you may feel embarrassed by your offer and be tempted to not make it for fear of upsetting the seller. As the real estate investing saying goes, “If you are not embarrassed by your offer, you are offering too much.” Make the offer anyway. I still feel embarrassed about almost all of the offers I make.

The seller might sigh or seem completely deflated and uninterested, but this doesn’t mean that all is lost and that it was a waste of time. This is where following up is very important. Even if you feel the seller will never accept the offer, make a note to call in a couple of days and ask them if they had given it anymore consideration. A lot of times, they will thank you for calling but tell you that the offer was just far too low. At this point, ask them what amount would not be ‘too low’. At times, I’ve had people tell me just a couple thousand more and it just blows my mind that I would have lost the deal had I not called again. Keep following up, as time changes a lot of minds.

A Recent Example

Just recently I got a great deal under contract that I had immediately felt the seller would never be interested in the offer I would need to make, as the house was practically brand new (though it does need paint and carpet) and she did not seem that motivated. I forced myself to drive the 30 minutes across town to see the house. During that first visit, I made my offer and was quickly shown the door. Several days later I called her and asked if she had given my offer any more consideration.

At this point she dropped her price another $30k and asked if I could pay that. I told her that I could not but that I could come up $5k, but that would be the most (I had left room for negotiation). She was still not interested but I could definitely sense that her motivated was much higher than I had anticipated.

The next day, she called and asked if I could pay $5k more than another investor (which would be $10k more than my highest offer). I decided to take my wife to see the house as an excuse to visit it again and negotiate face to face with the seller. After looking at it again, I told the seller that I could not come up on my offer. After a little negotiating in terms of closing quickly and giving her a week to move out after closing she agreed to my offer, even though it was $5k less than my competitor’s offer!

Had I not forced myself to go and see the house and make the embarrassing offer, I would have never put this one under contract. Take this to heart. If the seller has room to negotiate, go and see the house and find out just how motivated they are. Don’t just assume that you know based on your initial conversation with them.

Time does also change people’s minds and it is always important to follow up.

About Author

Danny Johnson (G+) is a real estate investor in San Antonio, TX. Visit his blog: Flipping Junkie - A House Flipping Blog to follow along with him as he shows, in detail, the marketing he is doing, the leads being generated, the lead and deal analysis, the rehabs and really, just about everything. He also provides real estate investor websites at


  1. Great reminder to not assume anything and by all means follow up! I have been talking to a seller that I considered “luke warm” and was about to pass on the house and find someone with more motivation. I will give him a call today.


  2. There was a time when I was asked about how much is owed on the house I am selling during the first call. Honestly, I don’t feel the person asking is prying or something but I felt a little bit hesitant about revealing everything on the first call maybe because the buyer might think it is too high and another opportunity will go down the drain. I realized how important it is for the buyer to know this aspect after reading this article. No hesitations from me anymore. Thanks!

  3. “A lot of the time you may feel embarrassed by your offer and be tempted to not make it for fear of upsetting the seller.” Excellent point that you make here. This can be an intimidating point for many. Getting over this hump is essential for a successful transaction.

    • Drew,

      Completely agreed. This follows along the same lines as the common real estate investing statement, “If you are not embarrassed by your offer, you are offering too much.” I’ve found this to be true over and over again. Thanks for your comment.

  4. Why make an offer when you can make three offers instead? Then instead of yes or no, they’re thinking “which is the best?” My three offers start with high price offer (with no down, good terms including 0% interest or taking their mortgage sub2) mid price offer, (some down, mostly terms) and the lowest offer, all cash. The latter is always embarrassingly low. Often they focus on price, and my 0% offers feature an unusually high monthly payment (wouldn’t you come out of pocket for a pure principal payment?) . They often like that the best. Some change their mind mid-deal and settle for my low cash offer.

    • Brian,

      I don’t think I would put it that way. Really, the only reason why I want to know what they owe is to figure out whether it is worth pursuing. They still will only accept something that works for them and I don’t just offer what is owed unless that’s where my analysis leads me.

  5. Great read. I am wondering if you are the seller and are poised with the question of “how much do you owe on the property” what a good response would be so you don’t tip your hand? Would it be appropriate to answer the question with a question such as “What are you willing to pay?” Often times it is the first person who states a price that initiates that parameters for negotiating to take place, correct?

    • Geoff,

      You are correct. When you are the seller, you really don’t want to share what is owed, but it really doesn’t matter. You are not stating an asking price if you tell them what you owe. When I am asked, which is rarely, I tell them it is of no consequence and that I am asking x dollars. Usually when selling, I have an asking price advertised, so that is why I state it. If you are negotiating with someone that wants to buy and you have not asked a price already, then you would do as you mentioned and answer with your question. You are correct about your last question.

  6. Danny,

    The money is in the follow up! Most folks give up at this stage; after the initial offer.

    I always ask if there is a mortgage on the property. Most folks don’t have a problem telling you, especially if they already know that they owe too much.

    I think it’s crucial to find out what they need out of the sale in addition to money. There’s always something to tip the scales. Sometimes they are broke and want you to pay the closing costs. With probates especially, I find that they reach a point in cleaning out the house where they just want to walk away from the rest of the “stuff”. Maybe what they really need is for you to finish cleaing out the house.

    I like to ask them, “In a perfect world, what would you need to need to happen to just be done with this whole problem?” They may be willing to take less money if you can solve some other problem associated with their situation. Just ask them.

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