Build Rapport with Sellers of Probate Property

I’ve been getting a lot of questions and concerns from investors about working probates during a pandemic.  They are worried about how to build rapport with sellers of probate property during this difficult time. How do they not come off as cold-hearted opportunists? 

First of all, I would like to address the fact that this is a valid concern for investors. It affects the way you interact with sellers. If you don’t understand the probate process it won’t take long for the seller to figure that out, and you may say the wrong thing.   

However, if you understand 2 things, you realize that this isn’t a problem but rather a golden opportunity to help these overburdened, overwhelmed sellers move forward with settling the estate. What are those 2 things?


The Process and Starting the Conversation

Tips for Understanding the Process 

Understanding the probate process is the first step when it comes to knowing how to build rapport with sellers of probate property. You simply cannot have an intelligent, compassionate conversation with the seller unless you understand the probate process. 

Once these folks open the estate, the next steps are laid out for them. After the estate is opened and the letters of testamentary are ready, the next step is to liquidate the assets in the estate which includes selling any property in the estate. This is when you can buy the house.

The letters of testamentary from the court spell out who is in charge. Another way to put it is the letters clearly state who the person is that has the legal right to sell the property. I like to call this person the decision-maker.  The decision-maker is the only person that can sign the documents related to the purchase of the property. 

Now, it’s quite likely that another member of the family will be the person showing you the property or communicating with you and that’s pretty normal.  However, when it comes to signing the sales and purchase contract, only the court-appointed personal representative can do that.  Armed with a basic understanding of this part of the process, we can move forward with how to have easy conversations with the sellers.


How to Start the Conversation with the Seller

I wrote a whole blog post previously about the “Art of Conversation” and I will put a link to that below.  When it comes to having conversations with these sellers, probably the most important thing to remember is that they are just regular people, and this is just a conversation.  This will be a conversation guided by how you can help them with the sale of the property and any other challenges they have related to the property like:

  • Back taxes owed
  • Fines from code enforcement due to deferred maintenance, tall grass, or similar things
  • Cleaning out the house and/or the garage
  • Junk on the property

In your conversation, you will want to find out what they need help with.  Another way to put it is what’s holding them back from moving forward with the sale of the property?


Conversation Starters

Here are 7 tips that will help make this process easy for you. 

    1. Once you arrive at the property, introduce yourself then simply say, “Tell me about the property”.   Your job is to listen; to really give them your full attention.  Listen for clues about their motivation. Show them you are empathetic by giving them your full attention. 
    2. They may begin to walk through a room or two as they tell their story. Remember that sharing their stories and their memories are important to them.  This is an important piece when it comes to building rapport with these sellers. Patience is your friend. Don’t be tempted to look at your watch or check your phone. 
    3. Resist the urge to dive right into asking specifics about the property. That comes later. Rushing the process is a mistake. Your ability to do this will be an important reason why they will choose you over your competitor. Your competitor is most likely coming to the property and starting with this step. 
    4. Look for visual clues to guide the conversation. For instance, if you see golf clubs in the corner and you know their dad has passed away. Simply say, “Oh, was your dad a golfer”?  Maybe you see a collection of cookbooks in the kitchen. In that case, you would say, “Oh, did your mom love to cook”? Unless the house has been completely cleaned out (which is unlikely) there will always be visual clues to guide the conversation. 
    5. After you do this a few times, you will instinctively know when it’s time to move on with questions about the property.  This is when you will want to ask questions about the age and condition of the roof and the major systems. I also like to ask then if there are any problems with the property I should know about. You will be amazed at what people will tell you just by asking an open-ended question like this.  As you walk through the property you can ask them about specific things you notice. The key thing to remember is that you have followed the steps I have laid out, you have already put them at ease and begun to build rapport with the seller.At this point, they will be ready to get down to specifics.One final question I like to ask is, “If you were going to live here what would you do to the house”? This question will likely lead to another whole conversation which lays the groundwork for changing the seller’s expectations.  That’s another thing I talked about previously on the blog in a post called, “Negotiation and the Art of Conversation”. I will also link to that post below.
    6. Once you have asked them about the repairs and updates they would do if they were going to live there, that opens another door for you. It allows you to remind them that after you buy the house and do all the repairs and updates that are needed, your buyer will want and expect those same things in a newly renovated house when you are ready to sell it. When they tell you that they can do the work cheaper themselves, just agree with them. You can let them know that they can certainly do that if they are willing to invest their money and put some sweat equity in the property. They will definitely get more money for the house by doing all the repairs and updates needed than you can pay for an “as-is” property.At this point, it’s a good idea to remind them that your expertise is in helping folks just like them who have a property in an estate to sell find a quick, hassle-free solution to their problem. Let them know that you hire qualified contractors to do all the work. Since the new buyer will almost certainly have a home inspection done on the property it’s important that all the work is done professionally and to code.
    7.  Finally, before you ever make them an offer, there are a couple more questions you want to ask them. First of all, ask them if they need help cleaning out the house. Let them know that you can do that for them. This is where so many people get stuck.Next, ask them, “Is there anything else holding you back from moving forward”?  You are looking once again for motivation. Another way you can put it is, “Is there anything else I can help you that will make this process easier for you”?


Final Thoughts

I hope these tips will make you see that these conversations don’t have to be difficult.  When it comes down to how to build rapport with sellers of probate property, taking a commonsense approach is really all that is necessary.

If you want to learn more about probate investing there are a couple of ways you can do that.  There is a lot of information on here my blog and podcast so you can start here at the Louisville Gals Real Estate Blog.  I also have a sample probate letter that you can download for free.

If you want to take your knowledge of this subject to a whole new level, then I encourage you to check out my course Probate Investing Simplified while it’s open for the final time this year. You can do that by clicking this link.


Here are Some More Helpful Resources for You

Negotiation and the Art of Conversation

Changing the Seller’s Expectations


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