FBI Negotiator Chris Voss’ Take on Tough Repair Requests

January 20, 2023

Before authoring Never Split the Difference, one of the best negotiation books of all time, Chris Voss worked as the FBI’s lead negotiator for international kidnappings. In the podcast below, Voss shares the secrets of professional persuasion and explains what real estate agents can do to save deals in danger of falling through.

We also role-play several common real estate negotiations before Voss finishes out the interview by outlining common communication pitfalls that cost agents referrals.

If you need a crash course on business negotiation and client communication, be sure to give the full interview a listen. For a rundown on the role-play session we had on negotiating repairs for buyer clients, keep reading.

The hardest part of getting the deal done

The hardest part of getting a real estate deal done isn’t getting an offer accepted; it’s the weeks that come after.

All agents want to keep their clients happy and to keep the process running smoothly. It’s not easy, especially when major repair requests are involved.

Here’s the role-play scenario: I’m representing the sellers and Voss brings in a couple who love the property. My sellers accept the buyers’ offer and everything’s running smoothly; that is, until the home inspector’s report comes back noting that the roof needs to be replaced – a $10,000 repair.

Voss’ goal is to negotiate roof replacement on the buyers’ behalf – a hard sell, and one that could cost both agents their commission if things go wrong.

But things can work out for everyone involved, and the agent doesn’t have to risk torpedoing the deal. In the role-play below, Voss utilizes his negotiation expertise to navigate through a tough repair request.

Role-play: Negotiating repair requests for buyers

Pat: Look Chris, I talked to the sellers. And although your report says the roof is at the end of its useful life, the fact of the matter is it’s not leaking.

You knew that it was 20 years old when you looked at the house the first time. You knew it was 20 years old when you submitted the offer, and then all of the sudden, here you come three weeks later talking about how you want a $10,000 new roof. It’s just not going to happen.

Voss: Pat, I’ve got heartbreaking news, man. I don’t think you want to hear it.

Pat: What is it?

Voss: How are we supposed to take that as is?

Pat: Well, you know, once it starts leaking, patch it.

Voss: How are we supposed to do that? How are they supposed to do that?

Pat: Don’t they have any money saved up? Why don’t you ask them?

Voss: Man, you know, I don’t blame you and your seller from walking away from this at all. I mean, I probably would if I were you. You know, the reality is buyer beware, and it’s impossible to buy anything that’s perfect.

I know it’s unrealistic, but they put all their hopes and dreams in this. It’s probably naïve of them to think that they can buy a house without having to put their life’s savings into it. But how are they supposed to do that?

Pat: I don’t know. Do you want me to go back to the sellers and tell them they can’t come up with it?

Voss: I don’t know. You’ve got a better feel for this than I do. Like I said, I’m sure it’s going to break your sellers’ hearts, and they probably have no problem going back out on the market and rolling the dice again. It’s probably worth another roll. I mean, you never know how the dice are going to come up; it might turn out better. I wouldn’t blame you guys at all for walking away.

Pat: Alright, let me go back and talk to them.

Voss: That would be generous on your part to even talk to them. It’s generous of you to make that move. I know you have a lot of time in this, and I know you don’t want to waste your time.

It’d be generous of them to even consider it. If they feel like walking away, I completely understand. You’ve been very upfront with me, and I’ll make sure to let my buyers know how upfront and decent you’ve been about all this.

Help the other party understand your position

So, what’s Voss really trying to do with the dialogue above?

His responses might seem overly apologetic, but that’s the key to getting through to the other party.

You never want the other agent or their client to feel like they’re getting cornered; things won’t go smoothly. Be respectful, but more importantly, respect their autonomy. If you do, it increases the likelihood that they’ll agree. At the very least, they’ll be willing to entertain what you want.

But there’s more to it than that.

Voss wants to help formulate the other agent’s dialogue with the sellers. In a very deferential fashion, he explains where he and his clients are coming from; this gives the other agent a chance to really understand the buyers’ position and makes them more willing to carry their case forward to the sellers.

For more details on Chris Voss’ negotiation strategies and additional role-play scenarios, listen to episode 845 of Real Estate Rockstars.

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