My “Columbo” Trick for Getting a Seller to Show His Hand

Cody Sperber
By Cody Sperber |

one more thingHey there, gang. I want to tell you about a recent conversation I had with one of my students, who asked:

“How do you get the seller, in that initial phone call, to reveal if they have a mortgage, and if so, how much do they owe?”

This is a fantastic question, because obviously, this is key information that you need right out of the gate so you can make an educated offer.

If the seller owes $90,000 on a $100,000-valued house, it doesn’t make sense to offer them $65,000 cash, right? You need to know this kind of information ASAP, but many people (just like my student) are intimidated to ask for this information. And I get that, so…

I’m going to explain how to use my totally smooth “Columbo” technique that’ll help you get that helpful information, but doing so won’t make you feel yucky or weird about it.

What had happened was…

In this previous blog post, I talked about the “Columbo” technique within the context of 7 kick-butt Jedi Mind Tricks I use with sellers. Here is how I explained it there…

Let’s say you made your offer and they won’t accept it. (It happens – not often, but it happens.) How do you get them to budge? They still want $90,000. This is when the Columbo comes in…

You say:

“You know what Mr. or Mrs. Seller, I feel really defeated. We were so close and I really like you.”

Now, let the lovefest begin… shake their hand, thank them (maybe give ‘em a hug!) and as you’re walking out the door to leave… you drop the Columbo technique on ‘em:

“You know what, Mr. Seller… I can’t leave here today without making a deal. If I can get my partner to come up in the offer, and I am not saying I can… and you and I talked about a 10-day close, but since I am not getting that price, would you be willing to wait up to 25 days so my partner can move around some cash? On top of that, we are going to have to get our contractors in here. So I just need to know you can be flexible about letting them in to start a repair bid. Is that okay with you?”

And guess what usually happens: They agree. So, I hop out, make the phone call and return, saying:

“Great news. We have a deal.”

columboNow, you see how we talked about pushing the closing as far out as possible?

Put your inspection period in business days because you want to ‘buy’ as many days as you can. Tell them, for example, there is a 10-day inspection period. This is important because 10 days is really 14 days in business days.

And that, friends, is how the Columbo is done.

My Boy, Bob

So, let me walk you through an instance I use this same Columbo technique to get sellers to “pony up” and reveal their mortgage amount

Meet Bob. He’s our imaginary seller for learning purposes. Bob has a house to sell, and because I am so awesome at marketing he comes across my number. I talk to him and work my charm. But, as I’m finishing up our conversation, I’ll sneak in the important mortgage question without coming across as getting too personal too quickly, like this:

“Hey, I think I got everything I need here. Bob, I really appreciate you giving me the opportunity to earn your business here today. I think I got all that I need to go back to my business partner and see if we can put an offer in front of you here later today and I’ll be calling you back…

Oh, wait, hey, you know what? I see here in my system that you have a mortgage on the property. Is that accurate?”

You see how I kind of did that as an afterthought? The reason I do it is because if I just go to Bob and say, ‘Hey, Bob, do you have a mortgage on your property?’ Bob might be like, “Oh now, I’m putting on the brakes, why are you asking me a personal question?”

But, if I do it like the Colombo afterthought, where I say:

“I got everything. I’m good to go. I’m going to put our highest and best offer in front of…

Oh, you know what? I see here in my system that you have a mortgage on the property. Is that correct?”

And then I am going to be quiet and let Bob answer. If he says, ‘no,’ then I know this house is free and clear, and I’m on the right track and I start to start to visualize how much equity Bob has.

If Bob says, ‘yes, I do owe,’ I’ll respond like this to try and pull some more info from him:

“Oh, okay, just so I have it here and I can fill out the spaces on the form on my computer so it’ll let me go to the next stage… do you have an estimate on how much is owed currently?”

Listen, 8 times out of 10 they’re going to tell you. And now you can calculate their equity. That equity piece is going to come into play because, obviously, if they owe $80,000, the house is worth $100,000, they’re not going to be able to sell it to you for $50,000.

Let’s wrap with a quick recap…

So what did we learn here?

conversationGet them talking to you like they’re chatting with a friend.

This strategy works because you’ll be able to build rapport quickly by starting out with simply a casual conversation. You’ll make them feel comfortable while you talk by being friendly and really listening to them, and you can slowly begin to pepper in some open-ended questions.

Here’s where you slip in the real question

Now, find a way to nonchalantly ask the question you really need to know, (in this case, it’s how much they owe on their mortgage, if anything).

A good way to make this important question feel “not so direct” is to make it seem like it’s not that big of a deal and by asking it last – as if it were an afterthought. You’ll likely catch them a little off guard and they’ll probably blurt out an answer.

“Oh, yeah… by the way, do you have a mortgage on the house?”

Then, let it be silent. The pause of silence is extremely important. I am just waiting on the seller to answer “yes” or “no” and BAM! You got everything you need to continue (or not continue) on this deal.

Well, guys, that’s it. Use my Columbo trick…build some rapport… make some deals.

And, hey, if you wanna see these techniques from the master himself, watch and enjoy, friends.

Until next time…


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