How to Talk To Motivated Sellers on the Phone: The Benefits of Using A Standard Property Information Form

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In your real estate business, it’s critical to your success that you learn to ask the right questions when someone calls. When you get the right information every time, it will help you to quickly determine whether or not you are dealing with a motivated seller. Always bear in mind that even thought this person isn’t a motivated seller today, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they won’t be motivated in the future. Time and circumstances change all things.

I have a rule of thumb that I follow regardless of which category they fall into. So long as the house is one that I am interested in buying, I keep them on the mailing list until one of these things happens:

  • I buy the house.
  • Someone else buys the house.
  • They ask to be removed from my mailing list.

That’s it. Don’t disqualify someone because they aren’t a motivated seller today. Keep on marketing to these folks. I have bought houses several years after I started marketing folks. Absentee owners that are “long distance landlords” are a group of people that sometimes become very motivated after a tenant trashes their house one too many times.

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What Questions Should I Ask?

You should always use a standard Property Information Form to be sure that you don’t forget anything when a seller calls. I like to keep a stack of them on my desk. If you do that, you will always get the information that you need. Some of the things I have on my Property Information Form are listed below.

The Sellers Contact Information

  • Their name, phone number and email address; try to get all of their phone numbers.
  • The property address
  • Be sure to get the name of the person that actually owns the house. Often the person calling may not be actual owner or the decision maker.
  • Ask whether the property is vacant or occupied. If it’s occupied, who lives there? Is it a tenant, a relative etc? This will have an effect on how you can access the property.
  • In the far right corner of my Property Information Form, I list the referral source and the type of referral:

-DM –Direct mail campaign

-PR – Probate

-AO – Absentee Owner

-Other Type of Referral (Bandit Signs, Referral, Ad etc.)

-What state do they live in?

It is important especially when working with absentee owners, to know which state they are calling from so that I know which time zone they are in. I don’t call them too early or too late.

The Property Information

  • The number of bedrooms and baths
  • The style and type of construction such as “brick ranch”
  • Whether it’s built on a basement, slab or crawl
  • When the kitchen and bath(s) were last updated
  • Types of flooring: carpet, hardwood or other type
  • The ages of all the major systems such as the roof, HVAC, etc.
  • The type of fuel used for the heating system
  • Be sure to find out if all the utilities are on in the house
  • Ask them what repairs and updates they would do if they were to live in the house. You will be amazed at the information you will get just by asking this one question.

Try To Determine Their Motivation

  • How long have they owned the house?
  • Why are they selling? Probate, absentee owner, facing foreclosure (What’s their motivation)?
  • What is their asking price? You want to find out what their “expectations” are.
  • How much the house is assessed for? A lot of the time sellers have no idea.
  • If the house is listed, if so who has it listed? When is the listing over? Ask if it’s OK to keep them on your mailing list just in case the house doesn’t sell.
  • Do they have other properties to sell? Never forget to ask this question.

Existing Mortgage Information

You want to get specific information on what (if anything) is owed on the house. You may find out very quickly that you can’t help this seller no matter how motivated he is especially if there is no possibility of a short sale.

Figure Out What Your MAO Is

I have this right on the bottom of my form. I list the ARV (after repaired value) and the dollar amount of the repairs needed. Since I am a wholesaler, I also have a place to list the wholesale fee I want; “Me”. These figures will tell me my MAO or my “maximum allowable offer”.

I have set the form up so that I can put two sets of figures in this area. What I will do is figure the MAO for a complete rehab, and a “to rent” MAO. Landlords won’t necessarily do the same level of work that a rehabber would do for a retail sale. Some won’t do any updating at all; they will be OK with a bathroom that has pink tile if it is in perfect condition. After all, they won’t be living there. Doing this second MAO gives me another way to “create a deal” if I can’t get the seller quite as low as I need for a rehabber to buy this house, and I have landlords that would pay a little more.

Related: BP Podcast 012 : Wholesaling and Marketing with Sharon Vornholt

Other Tips

When you talk to any seller, not only do you want to find out their motivation is, but you want to know if they have a “number in mind” to just walk away and be done and to be rid of this headache.

What problem do they need YOU to solve? Always remember; it’s never just about the money. When they have given you a number, wait a little bit before responding. Then ask them, “is this is the best you can do”? Once again, just wait. Wait for them to speak first.

You will be amazed at the number of people that will immediately drop their asking price significantly. Finally, ask them what they will do if they don’t sell the property; if they get stuck with this unwanted house.

I have uploaded the form that I use in my business in the BP File Place. You will find a number of good forms there that you can use. Just pick one and always use it.

Do you have any other information that you ask for when you speak with a seller?

Photo: splorp

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.

47 Comments

    • Brandon –

      I think you are underestimating yourself. I’m pretty sure you would be good at this. If you have a sheet to use, it really helps to keep the conversation flowing. I usually start off by asking the seller to tell me about the house. Then I just start filling in blanks. Then you can say, “let me ask you about ….” or “I have a few questions” or something similar. The conversation will flow quite naturally.

      I do have to tell you that have to be willing to endure some long winded stories when you say “tell me about the house”. But that’s OK because you will often learn what their motivation is.

      Sharon

  1. Glenn Schworm

    Good article Sharon. Our consultants did much better when we gave them a questionnaire to go by. I like your question about what their plans will be if they don’t sell the house? That is a good one and we will be adding it. Thanks!

  2. Sharon,
    Another GREAT post! Very informative article, I really liked your idea of a second MAO as it opens up other options. I will definitely add that in.
    Thanks
    Anthony

    • Anthony –

      I have a couple of landlords on my list that will buy at a slightly higher price. I still figure in major system updates, and things that must be done for them. The only difference is that I know they will live with the pink or green ceramic tile in the bathroom if it is in good shape. Even though I will figure new cabinets, they may keep the old ones.

      It works out to be a “win-win” for everyone. I gives me a chance to still put together a deal that otherwise might be lost if I just had firm figures for a full rehab to work with.

      Sharon

  3. Sharon,

    This was a very helpful article. My form is two pages. In addition to most of what you have, I have a spot for sold or active comps that I can quickly fill out to get a general idea of ARV. I also have a short checklist of things that might make the desirablilty of the property go down such as busy streets or too close to the road.

    Do you fill out the MAO calculations while you are on the phone? Do you look up ARV while you are speaking with the seller?

    • Tyler –

      I usually pull the property up on the PVA when I have them on the phone, and I may pull up comps then.

      If I am returning a call, I will pull up the comps and the PVA before calling them back. I usually just print the comps I want and attach them to my sheet.

      I always want to look at what investors are paying for houses, and also what the median or average retail buyer is paying. I never go by those one or two high comps that you find. If my end buyer rehabs and sells the house for the higher price then I am happy for my them but I don’t count on that.

      I also just write comments in the box I have on the sheet. There is always “something else” you want to remember like a busy street or a lot of not so nice houses nearby.

      I usually do a quick percentage reduction on the form. If I intend to buy at 70% less repairs and my fee, then I want to know what that 70% is when I am talking to them. Sometimes I know that they are just way too high on what they want (at this time). Thanks for your comments Tyler.

      Sharon

    • Mark –
      You know what they say; you have to kiss a lot of frogs before your find a prince (or princess I guess). There is just no way around it.

      But using a form and starting off by telling the seller to “tell me about your house”, gets the conversation going. Just look at it a practice so when that great deal finally comes along, you will come across as a pro. Before I started using a standardized sheet, I used to forget to ask them things. I always hated calling them back to ask something important. It all gets easier with time.

      Sharon

  4. Sharon,

    Great post Sharon. I’ve found that when I don’t use a script the conversation doesn’t flow as naturally or sometimes I forget to ask important questions leaving large gaps in what I need to know. What do you recommend for someone who wholesales on the side and may not always have the script handy when a call comes in?

    Also, I’ve always wondered what benefit is it of knowing the assessed value when a lot of times the assessed value is so far below what the house is worth or what the comps show?

    Thanks again

    • Barima –

      I would either make a couple of copies and put them in a folder in your car. That way, you will always have some with you. You could also make a list of the questions and put them in your smart phone. Heck, you can fold one up and put it in your wallet too.

      I always compare the two, but the comps always win. It’s great to pull up the property on the PVA while you are talking with the seller, because (here) you can see a picture of the house, square footage, age, amenities, and sales history as well as some other things. In some cases you will see that it actually sold within the past year or two. It is just one piece of the puzzle to factor in.

      Sharon

  5. Great article Sharon
    Priceless information from someone really “doin it”
    On a daily basis,,,,
    Please keep it up.,,,
    We live your articles and the excellent podcast a while back
    My Best Regards

    Dave Doyle
    Los Angeles

  6. Hi Sharon,

    I love this post! I love the detail and the explanations on why you include certain things. You asked for things we always ask that are not on your list…I only have one, and it’s really just a take on your “why are you selling”…

    For me, it’s the QUICK AND DIRTY way to find out if you need to get off the phone or not, and not waste your or their time. 1 question:

    “(Their name), do you NEED to sell your house/property/etc?”

    After exchanging pleasantries & confirming property address, this is my 1st question every time. Then I follow it up with the “why do you NEED to sell?”, and shut up and let them talk. Sometimes I even put my phone on mute because I have an A.D.D. tendency of interrupting.

    The word “NEED” in the first question tells you motivation right off the bat — and if they do need to sell, it’s also a psychological reminder to them of the urgency of the situation…and now you can be their savior if you can build that rapport. If they answer anything other than yes, motivation is low. keep them on the list, keep mailing to them, but don’t waste time with the whole conversation at this time. There are lots of nice ways to get off the phone quickly.

    Full Disclosure, I didn’t come up with this line…a fellow BP’er taught me.

  7. Randy Hooser on

    Sharon, thanks so much for another valuable post. I make it a point to read your stuff, both here on BP and also at your LouisvilleGalsRealEstateBlog. (How’s that for a plug?!)

    I’m a newbie wholesaler, so new that I haven’t actually done any deals yet. I’m trying to educate myself as much as possible, but know I need to take action. I feel a little stuck on where (literally) to start with my marketing, however. I just moved to the Denver area, but don’t know the market at all. I am much more familiar with the Dallas market, which is where I lived until recently, and feel much more comfortable dealing with RE there. I know that you market, in part, to absentee owners. Do you only deal with AO’s of property in your area, or do you also market to owners of property in other areas?

  8. Sharon Vornholt

    Randy-

    I only work here, because I know the area. I like to see the houses and the neighborhoods. If you have “feet on the ground” in Dallas, you could probably invest safely there since you are from there.

    I would encourage you to go out every Sunday to open houses and look at property. That is one of the fastest ways to learn the area and different neighborhoods. Also, if you could find a Realtor from Dallas that now lives in Denver, you could have them take you around and compare neighborhoods where you are now with similar neighborhoods in Dallas.

    Josh Dorkin might be able to point you to someone since he lives there. You also have another successful investor that in right in your area – Susan Lassiter Lyons from “The Investor Insights”. She lives there too. You might also just get lucky and find someone at your local REIA that is from Dallas. I would start asking around.

    Thanks for the plug for my blog!

    Sharon

  9. Sharon,

    Do you actually negotiate with the seller with the very first call? Or do you call them back talking about your offer? I just feel there is not enough time there to do my research. What is your typical practice?

    Thanks,

    Rocky

  10. Sharon Vornholt

    Rocky –

    I try to get a feel for where they are on the phone. But I go look at the property, and you should too. It gets you used to talking to sellers. I tell them that I want to go back to the office and put the numbers on paper. Then I call them back. I don’t throw “possible offers” at them. I want to know what my numbers are.

    Sharon

  11. Thank you for the property information sheet, I see you just updated a month ago, thank you!

    I got calls from the absentee owners who received my mail. After going through the property info, I asked them how much they want for the property, I had many of them turned around and asked me what I would like to pay. I pushed back saying I haven’t not seen the property so I can’t give you a number, then they asked for a ballpark. They just don’t want to give a number first. Is this an indication that they are not motivated and I should move on or should I tell them I purchase property at discount? I really don’t want to give a number unless I know how much they are asking. If you could advice me how to handle this, I would greatly appreciate it.

    • Eve –

      Most people won’t tell you what they are “hoping for” but every once in a while, they will spit out a number. I had someone do that yesterday. When they said they wanted 25k I asked them if they were stuck on that number or could they do better than that. He immediately said he could take 20K. So I now have a new starting point for the negotiations. You cannot quote anyone a number if you haven’t seen the house. You have to know the condition of the property before you can work up an offer.

      Getting an ideal of their expectations is what you are trying to achieve by asking what they want. Also if it is listed, you want to know that too. When they won’t tell you a number, just move on.

      Sharon

  12. Good morning Sharon

    Well I have been reading through a lot of your post and blogs and there is a lot of information to take in and it is very helpful. So first thank you for helping. I do vacant houses that I have went out and found through driving for dollars but have yet to make my first deal yet. How would I determine if they are motivated if I am calling them? The first call I made that someone actually answered the phone was on a vacant that has been vacant for some time and the taxes are delinquent. But when I called the seller first I was very nervous second I didn’t know how to start the conversation. I mean doing my homework I found that the property was willed to his mother that also passed away. I guess my question is how do I determine if they are motivated if I am the one calling them.And once they say know do i call them back are do i send them a letter

    • Cosa –

      If you just start a conversation with the seller it will flow easier. Think of talking to a friend or relative. “Hi, my name is Cosa and I have been looking for property in your area. I came across your vacant property at… and I was wondering what you plan to do with it?” Just wait for them to respond. Then continue on with the conversation. If they say, “how much will you give me for the property” then you say that you don’t know; you would have to see the property on the inside and put some numbers together”. That’s what you do. Call them, get an appointment, find out what their situation/problem is and try to solve that problem.

      Sharon

  13. Great info here Sharon, I have 2 questions.
    When talking to a seller and trying to get a idea of there price and they want to hear your number first, how do you go about giving them this number? You know everyone thinks their house is perfect and needs hardly or no repairs.
    Also how much do your numbers differ when making offers on properties that you pla to wholesale to a landlord vs rehabber?

    • Ceasar –

      I never give them a number without actually figuring the cost of repairs, and going through the process of figuring my MAO. I know some investors boast about just throwing out a number while they are at the property. But I think it is foolish to do that. And sellers are smart enough to understand that you need to actually figure out the costs before you give them a number. If they ask how much you will pay just say that you will need to figure repair costs and put some numbers together before you will be able to make them an offer. I always call them within 24 hours. Usually it is within 12 hours.

      I have written a post over on my blog called “Changing Seller’s Expectations”. In this post I talk about how I do that with the very first phone call. It’s a process, and most seller have an idea of what they want (it’s always too much), but deep down they know that they won’t get that inflated price for a fixer upper.

      I always figure the numbers exactly the same way; as if it is a rehab. On occasion, if I can get really close to the MAO I am looking for but it’s not quite there, I will take the house anyway if I have some landlords that i know would like the house.

      One instance was when I found a house that was in great shape, but everything was outdated cosmetically. I needed the house to be about 3k-4k cheaper than I paid for it (for a rehabber).

      I figured a whole new kitchen for a rehab, because this house had knotty pine cabinets. But I had a landlord that I knew would jump on a solid, 3 bedroom brick ranch that was like this. I knew he was never going to change out those cabinets, or the one knotty pine wall in the living room or the pristine 1960’s pink bathroom. They were fine for a rental. Everything major was in good shape. The house was still a great deal with about 25-30k in equity for him and a nice wholesale fee for me.

      So my answer is that I really know the folks on my buyer’s list. That is step one. But step 2 is that I always try to buy each property as if it will be a rehab. I hope this helps.

      Sharon

  14. Excellent post, Sharon. You answered a question I have been wrestling with (i.e., how long to keep prospects on the mailing list). I have experienced a number of cases where someone calls in response to the direct mail. I’ve called them back several times, but haven’t gotten a response. Question: how do you typically handle this situation? Do you make a specified number of call back attempts, after which you just set them aside for the next month’s mailings? Or do you keep calling till you get a response?

    Thanks,
    Paul.

    • Paul –

      I will usually try them a couple of times. If I don’t get a response and it’s a house I’m really interested in, I may drop them a card too. I will just keep them on my list after that. There is just no explanation for why they call you from your direct mail piece, then won’t return your call when you call back.

      Sharon

  15. Liz St. Pierre

    Hi Sharon – Thank you for this excellent article, lots of helpful information.

    How do you deal with absentee owners when you need to access a vacant property for photos? Do you just stick to exterior photos and assume a full rehab to calculate your numbers? Thank you!

  16. Sharon Vornholt

    Hi Liz –

    Never assume. The owners will always provide access. Usually someone in the area has a key; a neighbor or relative. I have even met a locksmith before and had keys made (at the seller’s cost). They will provide access if they want to sell.

    Thanks for reading.
    Sharon

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