Letter to a Home Seller – Is it a good idea?
The Current Market
The real estate market has been plagued by low inventory. Home sellers are thrilled with the multiple offers. Simultaneously, homebuyers are feeling the sting of repeated rejections. The height of the market hit early this year and has cooled off in many cities since then. But has it slowed down enough for homebuyers? There are still multiple offers, however, they’re in the single digits now instead of double digits. So that’s some consolation. Unfortunately, the slower market hasn’t given way to lower prices. They’re just not going up as quickly as they were.
A few weeks ago, I read a comment on Facebook from a realtor with some insight. I’m sorry I didn’t keep her name but she said this summer season would definitely slow down and see the effects of vacation travel. People would be anxious to get out of town because Covid kept us all locked up at home for so long.
I talked to a good friend today who said that she couldn’t reschedule her vacation to Hawaii. She thought she could push it out into the latter part of the year. But she couldn’t because the accommodations were totally booked into 2022. Maybe that realtor was right. We’ll have to see how the summer selling season goes.
More than the sale price
An offer on a house is much more than the price. There are plenty of things home sellers look at when they get an offer on their house – well, at least their agent does. Sellers always look at the price first. But it’s the agent that scours the offers to see if there are any clauses about repairs or other things that are going to reduce the net sales price. And there are a lot of changes to a contract that can do it.
There are standards and expectations in every area. A home seller might be confused or offended if an offer is written with something in it that is out of the norm for a particular area. As a home buyer, you have to be sure you’re following the standards. Otherwise, your offer can be rejected for something simple like asking the seller to pay for a home warranty.
More than money
If they’ve lived in the home for decades it might be really important who owns the house when they leave. Not every home seller is solely interested in the bottom line. Especially if they’ve raised their family and created many important memories there.
Getting the advantage
If you’re just trying to get an advantage, which is completely understandable, try these under-the-radar tips:
Do you know the seller or know someone who does? It’s not that hard to find out. Facebook is a great tool for seeing who is connected to who. The point of this is to ask that friend to put in a good word for you with the seller. It can be a short comment, “Jack told me he’s writing an offer on your house. His family is so excited. I hope they get it!”
Try to see the house when the seller is home. You want an opportunity to create rapport. It’s especially helpful to mention hobbies or sports you have in common. Maybe you have kids that are going to the same school. Or you know them through that mutual friend.
It’s important to check out the neighborhood you’re hoping to move into. So do that on a sunny weekend day. Try to catch the sellers or their neighbors outside. Have a quick chat. Talk about the reasons you love the neighborhood – and the house!
Letter to a home seller
As I just mentioned, trying to make a first impression can come in many forms. A letter to a home seller is another way to stand out from the rest of the offers. Taking some of the business aspects out of your offer and making it personal can be a good way to be noticed.
Letter to a home seller – 5 tips
This is your last chance to make a good impression. Follow these tips to get the most out of the opportunity.
- Keep the letter short. This isn’t the time to dazzle them with your ability to expound on War and Peace. You don’t want to annoy them when they’re already under tremendous stress. It would be helpful if they read the letter instead of tossing it aside because it’s too long and in-depth.
- Choose three key points you want to convey and stick to them. You love the house. You want it. And something about yourselves that they can relate to. This is meant to be personal. Add a sentence about how you can’t wait to cook in the beautiful kitchen. Or how much you appreciate all the work they did in the backyard because you love to garden.
- Build on the rapport. Think about the things you love about the house. Or mention something you have in common to create a connection.
- Don’t mention the changes you’re going to make to the house. Don’t talk about that hideous color you can’t wait to paint over. Stay positive. Keep the remodeling plans to yourselves.
- Be appreciative. Selling a house is a huge task. It’s exhausting and can make home sellers an emotional wreck. Let them know how much you appreciate how difficult it can be to sell a well-loved home. Also, thank them for their time and the opportunity to present them with your offer.
When a letter to a home seller won’t help
A letter to a home seller won’t work when that seller is an investor. The wise investor knows all the numbers to make his or her sale a success. They’re not interested in hearing anything other than the bottom line. They want the net from the sale so they can start planning their next transaction. I’ve worked with homebuyers who wanted to write a letter anyway, and that was fine. But when you’re dealing with an investor know that a letter to a home seller won’t help.
I remind home sellers that this is a business transaction. Many won’t have this chance again. They’ve lived in their homes for decades. And over those years, the house has accumulated equity that likely won’t happen again. They need to look past the desire to be nice. And not worry about who’s going to live in “their” home. Selling a property isn’t about making sure the neighbors get a good family to live there.
A letter to a home seller – the beginning
When the letter to a home seller initially became popular there were a few rumblings about the possibility of discrimination. We’ve been talking about it for years. One of the main components of a letter is a picture of the buyer. So if, for example, the home seller chooses an offer solely based on the race of the buyer that’s going to be a problem. It creates a perfect storm for a lawsuit.
So why doesn’t a letter like that work? Because they won’t ever see them.
There hasn’t been a definitive answer on how we’re supposed to handle these letters. I’ve always told my seller clients that it’s not to their benefit to be swayed by anything written in the letters. They shouldn’t see them at all. That will keep them from having any chance of giving their house away.
The California Association of Realtors responds
The California Association of Realtors has finally made a statement giving us direction on the letters. And it makes perfect sense. Aside from the conversation with the sellers, there are several options.
The broker can establish a policy on how to deal with the letters. The office can recommend that agents not invite or actually discourage the letters or return them if they’re presented. Once a policy is established, the agents should explain it to their seller clients with a form requiring the seller’s consent.
There’s a private section in each multiple listing service filled with information meant only for other agents. Things like where the lockbox is located. How to get the disclosures. Showing times, etc. The association suggests adding to that section that buyer letters will not be presented to the seller. The agent should suggest they call an attorney for advice if a home seller, knowing the risks, still wants to see the letter. Lastly, “the seller’s agent should not knowingly present some offers with buyer letters and not others.”
Writing a letter to a home seller is still an opportunity you should take. There may come a time when real estate standards change and all brokerages will see the risk. In the meantime, it may give you the lead you need to get that home. So give it a try.