How to build rapport with a seller in a competitive housing market.

I recently had the opportunity to work with a couple who made an offer on an unlisted property. While discussing an offer strategy, they asked, “Would a letter to the homeowners improve the odds of our offer being accepted?” Without hesitating, I answered, “Yes.” In a competitive housing market, every detail counts, especially for sales of owner-occupied homes!

While we already had the advantage of making an offer on an unlisted home and weren’t expecting competition, I encouraged Bilal and Natasha to write a personalized letter. Our hope was that in addition to providing a compelling offer, we could also connect with the seller on a personal level. If we were successful, we knew the seller might forgo listing the property altogether.

Mere hours after submitting our offer, we got a phone call. The seller’s agent informed us the homeowners had received more than one offer. But then came the good news: Bilal and Natasha’s thoughtful letter had resonated with the seller, and he wanted to accept their offer despite the competition.

I’ve sold real estate for 20 years, so this was not the first time I’ve witnessed the power of a personal letter. Selling a house is a financial decision, but selling a home is emotional. Homeowners love knowing about the people who want to buy their property. The reason is generally twofold. First, sellers want to know the future owners of their home will love and care for it as much as they have. Secondly, I’ve found many sellers feel a sense of duty to the community to replace themselves with great new residents.

A note of caution – don’t forget fair housing laws!

All that said, we cannot forget about fair housing laws. Emotional appeals should aim for a personal connection, not a persuasion or bias based on race, sexual orientation, marital status, religion, etc. In Washington, D.C., buyers, sellers and agents must be aware of 17 protected classes. A seller cannot accept or deny a buyer based on any protected class.

Want to write a letter, but you’re not sure where to begin? Start here:

  • Address the letter directly to the seller (make sure you use the person’s preferred name and spell it correctly).
  • Tell the seller about the three or four qualities you admire about the house. If the property has been renovated recently, be sure to say you noticed
  • If the home seems meticulously maintained, be sure to mention you noticed. Home ownership takes work, so your acknowledgement is a huge compliment.
  • Describe how you envision using the space. Homeowners often enjoy envisioning how the property will look once they are gone.
  • Compliment the seller on art or furnishings you respect.
  • Did you like the curb appeal? The front porch? The back garden? Say so!
  • Perhaps you share a love for the same sports team. Include commonalities and connections you noticed while walking through the house.
  • Share what you like about the community (a nearby park, shops, cafés or a favorite restaurant).
  • Be sure to let the homeowners know how moving into their residence will improve your life. Perhaps you will have a shorter commute, more space, a yard for your dog. Help them see how their life change is also making someone else’s life better.

There are a few things you should avoid in your letter. These are my suggestions:

  • Never reference any of the protected classes defined in your jurisdiction’s fair housing legislation (race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, family status, etc.), whether positively or negatively, whether about you, the seller. a neighbor, neighborhood, the schools, etc.
  • Do not share your plans to renovate. Most sellers hope you will appreciate their home as-is. They don’t want to envision you tearing rooms apart or painting over their favorite color on the walls. You might be excited about the way you imagine a renovated space, but leave it out of the letter. Stating your plans to knock out walls and open up the kitchen could backfire.
  • Don’t sound creepy. Though we all know it’s easy to run a Google search on someone’s name, don’t reference information you learned about the seller online. If it’s not something you could have easily heard from their listing agent or noticed displayed in the home, mentioning it might be off-putting.

When do letters work?

Because letters are an attempt at personal connection, results will vary. Letters influence sales most often for owner-occupied properties where the homeowners have spent a significant number of years living in the house; it’s not hard to understand why. The owners’ lives are entwined with the home, and if you can acknowledge and appreciate that fact, you’re off to a good start. It is, of course, important to note even the best letter can’t make up for a lousy offer. Think of the letter as a first impression. If the seller receives two similarly priced offers, hopefully the letter will set you apart.

While investors who flip homes are often swayed by a personal letter, it can’t hurt to include one. If you decide to write a letter to an investor or someone who has not lived in the property, change tactics: Praise the quality of workmanship or the stylish design choices. Complimenting parts of the home within the seller’s control could be a nice ego boost, which never hurts.

Though letters are no magic solution to an accepted offer, they rarely hurt your case. If you have specific questions about how a letter could affect your chances of success, talk to your buying agent. And if you’re still in need of an agent, give us a call anytime to set up a confidential consultation.

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