Here are 15 questions that I feel are essential to ask sellers when they contact you about selling their house. These are the questions that I ask each and every time I talk to a seller.
When I ask these questions, I am not just trying to find out the details of the house and how much they want, I am trying to find out how motivated they are and how willing they are to sell the house at a price that would make it worth it for me to buy.
We don’t want to ‘hard sell’ people and don’t want to come off as someone just reading down a list of questions. It’s best to try and make this as conversational as possible. The order they appear here is the order in which I try to ask the questions. The meat is at the end of the conversation. You don’t have to ask them in this order.
Key points to remember: Ask open-ended questions. Listen. Listen. Listen. Let them do the majority of the talking.
Who am I speaking with?
We need to know who we are speaking to. I like to call them by their name throughout the conversation to help build rapport. Usually, I will tell them my name and then ask theirs if they don’t just come out and tell me at the beginning of the conversation.
What is the address of the house you want to sell?
This one is pretty important. It’s hard to analyze a deal when we don’t know the address. On rare occasions sellers will be hesitant and some will refuse to give you the address. I’ve never understood it, but it doesn’t matter because they are obviously not serious enough about selling their house. If I’m at my desk when I get the call, I will start pulling up the information for the property from the county appraisal district’s website (to find yours, just Google ‘[your county or area] appraisal district’. They usually are something like ‘bcad.org’.) This way I can pull up other information that a lot of owners don’t know off the top of their head and you don’t want to waste time asking them. I find the square footage, year built, the lot size, neighborhood, etc.
How many bedrooms, bathrooms does it have?
Should be straight forward. Try to make sure when they tell you 3 bathrooms, that it is not really 2.5 or that a 5th bedroom is not a garage conversion or something.
Does it have a garage, basement, or pool?
Ask about conversions, finished basements (don’t have many of those in south Texas), inground or above ground pools (I really dislike investment properties with pools).
If you were going to list it with a Realtor, what repairs and/or updating would you say would be needed?
This is a great way to find out what the house needs in the way of repairs, but also what it needs to make it desirable. Many times if you just ask the seller what repairs it needs, they will just think of things that are broken or some way damaged. They tend to not think about the fact that the house is terribly outdated. You want them to realize that the house may be in good shape, but may require a lot of updating and polishing.
Why are you selling the house?
Here’s a big one. This one requires some time and a great deal of open-ended questions and keeping your mouth shut so that they can talk. This is where the motivation usually becomes apparent. Sometimes the seller will be hesitant and only tell you they are moving. Don’t leave it at that. Ask them why they are moving?
How much is owed on the house?
Some people are afraid to ask this question for fear the seller will not appreciate it. In their mind, it is like asking what hand they are holding at the poker table. That’s not it at all really. I just want to know if they owe too much for me to be able to buy the house. I don’t want to waste my time going to meet with them if there is no way I would be able to buy the house for what I would need to buy it for. The way to approach this question, is to just ask it like you did the question about how many bedrooms the house has. Don’t make a big deal out of it and they won’t. It’s rare that someone doesn’t tell me how much is owed. If they don’t, they are not likely motivated enough anyway.
Is the house behind on payments?
Notice the wording of this one. We’re not asking, “Are you behind on the payments?” That would be sort of like rubbing their faces in it. This approach is a lot easier for people to be comfortable with telling you. Of course, it also goes along the same lines as asking how much is owed and should be treated the same way.
Do you have an asking price in mind?
Is their asking price in line with where you likely need to buy it? The vast majority of the time it will NOT be. So don’t worry about it. The asking price is just the price they are hoping to get for it. Most of the houses we buy, the seller asked a much higher price but knew they would never get it. I look at what is owed more than what they are asking. Now, if they spend an hour telling you about how nice the place is and that it is the biggest, nicest house in the neighborhood and are selling it because they want to buy a bigger, nicer house, you probably don’t want to waste much time with them.
What did you base that on?
How did they come up with that price? Did a Realtor pull comps for them? Did they see a house down the street for sale at that price? Is it because they are hoping to have X dollars to do Y? This can help determine more of their motivation for selling.
How soon were you wanting to have it sold and closed?
Another motivation building question. If they want to be done with it yesterday they will think about that while answering this question and will let you know that really just want it off their hands. When people tell me they just want to be done with the f&^#&* thing, I head over to see it as soon as possible.
If I come out and look at the property and make you a cash offer to buy it ‘As-Is’ and close as soon as you want, what would be the least you would be willing to take?
Here’s Ron LeGrand’s ultimate question. This is a must-ask question. It never ceases to amaze me how many people quickly and drastically reduce their asking price with this simple question. Here again, you want to play the quiet game while they are thinking about it. You don’t want to feel uncomfortable about the silence and make a comment to allow them to avoid answering it. This one is too important as it does the negotiating for you.
When can I come by to take a look at the house?
If they are somewhat motivated and/or at least have enough equity to be able to sell you the house for what you need to buy at, schedule an appointment with them. Sometimes I get lazy and tell them that I will research it and call them back to set up an appointment. That’s ridiculous and I know it. When I do that, sellers probably don’t feel like waiting around for me and continue calling other investors. Not a good thing. Make sure you schedule an appointment to see the house. In my opinion, most sellers will only talk with 1-3 house buyers when calling investors to buy their house. You need to be the one or one of the three.
How did you hear about me?
We’ve got to know what marketing is working so that you can focus on the marketing that is pulling better. Keep track of this.
What is the best way to contact you?
I hope you don’t forget this one. You really need to know how to contact the seller again. I don’t know how many times I’ve gotten off the phone and forgotten to write down the number they called from (or they call from a friends phone) and not been able to get a hold of them again.
So there are the 15 most important questions that we should be asking sellers when they call us. Thanks for reading.