One strategy that people are using today to stand out from the crowd and compete with all-cash buyers in a hot real estate market is writing a homebuyer’s letter to a seller. It isn't easy to compose a letter that is engaging and personal enough to convince the recipient that her or she should award the house to you and not someone else.
You probably know that it’s getting harder to win a bidding war these days. People who need financing – and about 66% of all home buyers do – as well as those with smaller down payments often have trouble competing with all-cash buyers, who are able to entice sellers with clean offers and speedy closings. Even all-cash buyers may find themselves competing with others who also can come up with the cash. That’s where a letter comes in handy.
7 Tips for Writing a Homebuyer’s Letter to a Seller
Your tone is very important, and it’s worth mentioning that your purpose is to show the seller that you and your family would love living in their house because it’s awesome. You want the seller to feel a positive link to you after reading your letter – not anger because you pointed out that the decorating is seriously out of date and you can’t wait to remodel. With that in mind, here are seven tips to help you write a letter that will be well received and might help you get noticed in a bidding war.
1. Build a Connection
Look for something you and the buyer have in common, so that you can build on the connection. The goal is to help the seller identify with you and your family. Perhaps you are in the same line of work or share an alma mater, or you notice that there are a lot of bird feeders in the yard – as there are in yours. Pay close attention to details as your real estate agent shows you the home, so that you can find a potential bond and build on it in your letter.
2. Keep it Short
While you might be inclined to share your entire life story to ensure that you get your point across, it’s generally not a good idea. Unless you’re a gifted storyteller, no one is going to want to wade all the way through it. Instead, try to narrow down the letter to a single page, even if that means a lot of editing. Focus on two or three of the most important reasons why you are the best buyer for the home – and leave out the fluff.
3. Stay Positive
While you work on keeping it short, be sure to stay positive. Writing about all the offers you have lost in the past can put the seller in an uncomfortable position: He or she may feel bad for you but will ultimately wonder why you’ve had so much trouble buying a house. Remember, nobody wants to be a part of drama. If you appear desperate for any reason, you’re going to make the seller uncomfortable, so it’s important to stay positive. You want the seller to feel warm and fuzzy after reading your letter.
4. Show, Don’t Tell
Think back to your essay-writing days; you might remember a teacher saying, “Show, don’t tell.” The idea here is that you want your reader – the seller, in this case – to be able to experience your emotions. Don’t be afraid to show your attachment to the home; sellers like to see that it will be more than just an investment to you. Instead of writing “Your house is so beautiful. It’s just what we’re looking for,” try “Our twins are almost two years old, and we can already picture them playing happily in the fenced-in back yard and sleeping peacefully in their cozy rooms.” Sellers who raised their own family in that home may love the thought that a new family will love it as much as they did.
5. Leave Out Your Remodeling Plans
People are inherently protective of their homes, so be mindful of their feelings when composing your letter. Chances are that your remodeling plans will change (or destroy) something the seller has an emotional attachment to – such as the bathtub the kids splashed in, the breakfast nook where studying late at night earned someone a college degree or the tree under which the beloved family dog is buried. Keep your plans to yourself; let the seller picture you enjoying the home as it is now.
6. Finish Strong
Finish with a short paragraph that reinforces one or two key points you made in the letter (e.g., why you love the home, why you’re the best buyer). Also, be sure to show your appreciation for the seller’s time and consideration and the opportunity to write an offer. Sign with something like “Thank you so much for your time” as opposed to “Best regards,” which may come across as too businesslike. Some buyers like to include a family photo or one of the kid’s drawings to help sellers make an emotional connection. If you know the sellers are die-hard fans of the local baseball team, for example, you might enclose a photo of your family enjoying a game at the stadium.
7. Proofread It!
There are grammar police everywhere. To be safe, assume that the seller is one of them. Review your letter for grammar, spelling and punctuation, paying close attention to sneaky mistakes that spell check doesn’t always detect, such as they’re/their/there, your/you’re, and it’s/its. If proofreading isn’t one of your strengths, ask a friend or family member to review it for you. Approach the task with the same attention to detail that you’d give a cover letter for a job. A well-written, mistake-free letter shows that you care about making a good impression.
The Bottom Line
Sometimes a well-crafted letter to the seller can be enough to sway the odds in your favor, especially if you do a great job convincing the seller that you and your family love the home and are the best buyers. That being said, if the seller is a builder or an investor, he or she probably won’t care who buys because there is no emotional attachment to the home – the focus is on money and a fast closing. If that’s the case, you probably don’t need to worry about writing a letter. However, when the seller has an emotional investment in the home, a well-written, heartfelt letter just might be enough to win a bidding war. (For more, see Buying a Home: Write an Offer and Top Tips for Getting a Fair Price on a Home.)
When Cockeysville, MD, couple Alyssa Hammond and her then fiancé were house-hunting, they found a home they loved right away. But they knew immediately, since it had been on the market for a year, that there was something unusual about it. After chatting with a member of the sellers’ family during a home visit, Hammond got the scoop. The home had belonged to the sellers’ late mother. “[The sellers] were so picky about who purchased their late mother’s home,” says Hammond. “We had a feeling that sending a note with information about how we would utilize the house may be just the trick — and thankfully, it worked!” Here is their reassuring letter:
When my fiancé and I started looking into buying our first house, we visited a few places, and when we walked into your mother’s house, it felt like home. I pictured our dog napping in the sunlight next to the back door, and my fiancé and I decorating the back patio with string lights to make our own little oasis. During our initial visit, we had the pleasure of meeting your family member who has been checking on the house until you can find a new owner to love and cherish it. It is apparent that your mother loved this house dearly, and that is why it’s in such great shape.
So that you would know a bit about whom your mom’s home would be going to if you were to accept our offer: Andrew and I met as children, we’ve been dating for five years, and are getting married in six weeks. I’m a life and money coach, and my fiancé is getting his doctorate in physical therapy this May from UMD, graduating a week before our wedding.
We are also very involved in foster work — over the past eight years, we’ve taken in 15 foster puppies, and we hope to expand that to taking in foster children in the coming years. We aren’t able to do fostering in our apartment, so we are looking forward to having our own space and yard. Your home has just the right amount of room to ensure that we can provide a safe and loving home to multiple children (and pups!), which we love.
We absolutely adore the Springdale neighborhood! Andrew and I currently rent an apartment in Cockeysville with a rental lease through August that we are willing to break early, and we are prepared to move forward with this purchase immediately. We can offer a 20% down payment and are preapproved on a loan, additionally; we can have everything finalized within your desired closing date. Due to our budget constraints as a young family just starting out, we are open to an “as-is” sale provided that there aren’t any major repairs.
If you choose us to purchase your home, please know that it will be loved and cared for by us. It would be our dream come true to have this as our first home purchase. We are so excited to buy our first home and build a life that will steer the course for the rest of our lives!
Thank you for taking the time to consider us,
Alyssa Blackwell & Andrew Hammond
Why it works:
1. The buyers reassured the sellers by explaining who they were and what their specific plans were for the home.
2. They used enthusiastic, personal language.
3. Using the insights they discovered at the initial visit, they customized an offer letter that directly and specifically addressed the sellers’ concerns and respected their memories.