One strategy 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 engaging and personal enough to convince the recipient he or she should award the house to you and not someone else.
It’s getting harder to win a bidding war these days. People who need financing—and about 66% of all homebuyers 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.
Your purpose is to convince the seller that you and your family would love living in their house because it’s awesome. 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.
Look for something you and the buyer have in common and build on that 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 noticed 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 you can find a potential bond and build on it in your letter.
While you might be inclined to share your entire life story to 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 through pages of your personal history. Instead, try to keep 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. (For related reading, see: Buying a Home: Write an Offer.)
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 likes 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.
Think back to your essay-writing days. You might remember a teacher saying, “Show, don’t tell.” The idea here is you want the seller to experience your emotions. Don’t be afraid to show your attachment to the home; sellers like to know 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 the home may like the thought of a new family loving it as much as they did.
People are inherently protective of their homes, so be mindful of their feelings when composing your letter. Chances are 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 and let the seller picture you enjoying the home they way they enjoyed it. (For related reading, see: 7 Ways to Save on Home Remodeling.)
Finish with a short paragraph reinforcing 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.
There are grammar police everywhere. To be safe, assume the seller is one of them. Review your letter for grammar, spelling and punctuation, paying close attention to sneaky mistakes 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 you’d give a cover letter for a job. A well-written, mistake-free letter shows you care about making a good impression.
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 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: Top Tips for Getting a Fair Price on a Home.)