by Brett Lee
Last summer while helping a friend buy his first investment property, he asked me if we could send two repair lists to the sellers — one for things he wanted them to fix and one for things he was going to fix.
He explained to me that sending over one list of repairs makes it look one-sided. Technically, you’re asking them for more without offering anything in return. Most people don’t like that. However, if you also send them a list of repairs you will be doing, then you’re just being fair. The idea seemed a little crazy at first.
We gave it a try, and to my surprise, they did all of the repairs. It was a seller’s market, so this almost never happened. It wasn’t a one-time thing, either. Since I’ve started using this method, I’ve been able to increase the dollar amount of seller repairs by 30% and get more of them done.
Let’s look at why this method works and examine a few tweaks I’ve learned along the way to make it much more effective.
Cultural Fairness in America
Americans highly value fairness. In a real estate transactions, the same holds true. If you put your house on the market for what you think it’s worth in its current condition and someone low-balls you or asks for repairs without offering more money, you’ll see them as taking advantage of you. Why would you want help them?
Psychology of Loss & Gain
Psychologists have found that loss yields twice the emotion as winning. For example, I just received a free coffee during my flight, and I had a positive emotional response. However, if the stewardess were to take it back from me before I drank it, I wouldn’t go back to the neutral emotion state I was in before I had the coffee. I’d be quite upset, actually.
By just sending over a seller repair list, you give them the “losing” emotional response, which is twice as strong as your potential “winning” emotional response. You’re the person who returns to take sips from the coffee you just gave someone.
The only way to ask for repairs and not get them into the “losing” emotional response is to make the situation seem fair. If you both have a repair list, then they are not “losing” anymore; you’re just being fair. Everyone likes “fair,” and “fair” is relative.
The Emotional Brain (& Why a Good Inspector Will Save You Money)
When people buy and sell property, they are typically thinking with the emotional side of the brain. My house is worth $X, so I deserve $X. The emotional side does not take into account numbers (overpriced houses) and logic (why repairs need to happen). They want what they feel they deserve. End of story.
Since I’ve started using the two-repair-list strategy, I’ve noticed that the relative sizes of the lists greatly determines how likely you are to get repairs done. If the sellers get the shorter list, they are far more likely to do all of the repairs than if the lists are the same size. This works even if the shorter list is more expensive. Keep in mind the emotional brain makes quick decisions that aren’t based on analysis. The emotional brain sees shorter and better.
Quick tip: I would suggest making the buyer’s list full of cheaper repairs and repairs that can be done at a later date by the buyer.
Just recently I had an agent disregard the buyer’s list of repairs and start negotiating on the seller repairs. It was a seller’s market, and they didn’t want to repair anything. I said I understood and even agreed that some of the repairs didn’t make sense. Then I said I would resend the repair addendums, and they could do the buyer’s list instead (much longer but cheaper list). He immediately said, “No, we don’t want to do that many repairs,” and within a few hours, they agreed to do all of the repairs we asked for.
By saying they could have the buyer’s list instead of the seller’s list, I changed the conversation from which repairs they should do to which list should they do. The emotional thinkers will always pick the shorter list if the costs between the two aren’t obvious.
What to Look for in an Inspector
The most important piece of this puzzle is the inspector. If this is going to work, you need a home inspector who is very meticulous and documents everything. The more problems they can find, the more things you can ask for because “fairness” is relative. For example, sellers will be more likely to fix 10 things if there were 50 problems than 10 things if there were only 15 problems.
Other problems that most agents and inspectors don’t think about are components (plumbing, water heater, oven, heater, etc.) close to or past their serviceable life. These items can be added to boost the length of the lists, even though most of the properties in that price range are likely to have the same aging components. Keep in mind, fairness is relative to the number of problems. The more you find, the more you might be able to get done.
When asking for repairs, you have to keep in mind that most homeowners know nothing about homes. To make repairs more effective, I suggest adding reasons for the repairs if they aren’t commonly known, for example, “Upgrade electrical system — current system has been recalled due to fire hazard.” This helps them understand why it’s important. Just asking to fix something that has worked fine for them won’t seem fair.
Another benefit of two lists (all of the reasonable problems) is the requirement for sellers and real estate agents to disclose known problems in the home. If you let them know that their heater is past its serviceable life, they will legally have to disclose that to the next buyer. This increases the likelihood they will fix it because if they don’t, the next next buyers will ask for the same thing because they have to tell them it’s a problem.
- Hire an inspector who will document all problems (don’t include small scratches) to include components that are close to or past their serviceable lifespan.
- Send a repair list for the buyers and one for the sellers to make repairs “fair.”
- Make the buyer’s repair list longer and fill it with repairs that are:
- Easily done by the average buyer,
- Don’t need to be done right away.
- Explain why some of the items are problems if they are not immediately obvious.
- Having two lists that show all of the problems with a property locks the sellers in because they will have to disclose all of defects to the next buyer. Putting it back on the market will only cost them more time and money, and the same repairs are likely to come up again.
Do you use this strategy? How do you maximize the repairs that get done on properties you purchase?
Let us know your tips with a comment!
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