Make your home offer stand out with a handwritten love letter
Just as temperatures are starting to rise, so are multiple offers on prime properties in some recovering markets. To stand out from the pack, an increasing number of buyers are taking the old-fashioned approach and penning a love letter to sellers telling them what they adore about the house and why they are the best suitor to end up with it.
In this installment of Buying Advice, we'll look at what buyers stand to gain by writing these letters and what the letters should contain to be most persuasive.
Courting the owner In this digital age, there's something nice about getting a personal letter written (or even typed out) on paper, even if it comes from someone you are doing business with. That's why an increasing number of sellers are writing letters to owners when competition for properties gets stiff — especially given that bids considered too high often won't meet lenders' appraisal rules.
Anna and Buzz Hays recently wrote a letter to shore up their bid on a midcentury home in a coveted Glendale, Calif., neighborhood. "I thought about it and said, 'I might not have all cash to pay for the house, but I do have writing ability and I can use that,'" says Anna Hays, a teen-fiction writer.She described what she liked about the home, including how well-maintained it was, the beautiful rock waterfall by the pool, the friendly neighbors and the "nature and calm" in the wooded neighborhood that surrounded it. She also included a few lines highlighting her and her husband's résumés and assured the couple selling their home of 15 years that they would take steps to make its pool safe for their school-age twins. The strategy worked. Hays and her husband beat out the other three offers and recently closed on the property. "They called me when the bid was accepted and said it was because of the letter," she says.
Is this tactic a good way to set your bid apart from the pack, or is it a waste of time? We asked agents what they thought about buyer letters and what they would include if they wrote one. Most said a sincere letter was worth a shot for a standard sale, not a bank-owned property.
"I have seen them work miracles with sellers, and I have seen sellers put them aside and move on with another offer," says Ofe Polack, an agent with Coldwell Banker in Manchester, N.H. "Like everything else in life, it takes two to tango."
However, agents caution that buyers should never go rogue and submit a letter without their agent's knowledge. "Buyers are never to have direct communication with sellers," says San Diego agent Kim Drusch of Century 21 Award. She says she often submits photos and background stories of the family she is working with, if she thinks the seller would be swayed by the information.
"A traditional seller typically is devoted to the home they raised their family in," Drusch says. "They, of course, are vested in who takes over 'their' house from this point forward. "Buyers should convey several things in a letter, including:
Specific features or things that they like about the house and the community. "I've … had sellers read letters and the compliments made them so happy that they've chosen lower offers because of the letter. But not much lower," says Joseph Moore, an agent with Bridge Realty in Minneapolis.
How long they've been looking.
A little bit about themselves, including names and ages of any kids. "If the buyers knows that the seller raised a family in the house, I would appeal to those emotions," Polack says.
Anything that speaks to their purchasing power or creditworthiness.
A commitment to the house and a willingness to do "whatever it takes" to land it.
Anything else buyer and seller have in common.
Keep it short and sweet and don't give so many compliments that the sellers think they've underpriced the home, agents say. And don't expect your prose to bridge a $30,000 gap between your offer and the next bidder's. "If you're sincere," Hays says. "I don't see how you can go wrong."
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