In a competitive market, buyers have been known to waive contingencies, increase earnest money, insert escalation clauses, and pen love letters. Yes, that’s right: personal letters to sellers in an attempt to stand out from the crowd.
The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) isn’t feeling the love for “love letters” because they often contain personal information about the buyer, like their race and culture, that could make sellers and their agents vulnerable to accusations of discrimination.
Oregon was poised to ban homebuyer offer letters until a federal judge permanently blocked the law in March 2022. That month a Rhode Island representative introduced a bill to outlaw the practice in her state, calling it “kind of a very quiet way of redlining, potentially,” before the bill was held for further study.
So the practice goes on, legally, as of now, despite the letters’ tepid sway. A Zillow survey of partner agents showed that love letters were the least successful strategy for winning the deal (all-cash offers made sellers’ hearts beat fastest).
If you’re inclined to write a homebuyer love letter, here are tips.
1. Make a Strong Opening
Remember handwriting? Do your best and write your letter on a nice piece of stationery. You’re trying to humanize yourself in the eyes of the seller, and a handwritten note can go a long way toward doing so.
Address the seller by name if possible, searching for it online, or asking your real estate agent. As you write the letter, convey a friendly tone and a sincere message.
2. Tell the Owner About Yourself
You might choose to tell the sellers something memorable about your family, that you plan to raise kids in the house, or that the yard is perfect for your dogs.
You could also talk about where you’re moving from and why. Maybe you’ve taken a new job, you’re looking for a sense of community, and you fell in love with this neighborhood.
If you mention your family, just realize that familial status is protected against discrimination under federal housing rules. (In this case, sellers or their agents are not to act with bias against, or in favor of, families with children. The point of the Fair Housing Act is to create a level playing field for all people renting or buying a home, getting a mortgage, or seeking housing assistance.)
3. Think Twice About Sending Photos
Photos are part of what makes NAR uneasy, because race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, religion, and familial status are protected against housing discrimination under the Fair Housing Act.
Yet many real estate agents allow buyer clients to include photos with their offer letters.
The NAR director of legal affairs advises Realtors to “avoid helping buyer clients to draft or deliver love letters. … Counsel them to focus on the characteristics of the home or other objective information.”
Still, buyer love letters are actually encouraged by some agencies — along with photos and even videos.
4. Share What You Like Best About the Home
Why you want to buy the home is the central theme of your letter. So you may want to tell the sellers somewhere near the top what you like best about their house.
Mention details. For example, maybe you like the large front porch and can picture gathering there with friends and family on summer nights. Or maybe you’ve become enamored of the kitchen, where you’ll perfect your bread-making skills. If, by chance, the property has an ADU, you could describe your plans for it.
You could throw in a bit of flattery, letting the sellers know how much you appreciate how they’ve maintained the home.
5. Find a Connection
One way to develop a relationship with someone is to find common traits or interests. If you notice that you and the sellers share an interest, it can’t hurt to let them know.
Perhaps you’re a gardener, and it’s clear they’ve got the plant bug. Maybe you have a passion for pottery, and the seller has a small ceramics studio. Or maybe you noticed a jersey from your favorite basketball team.
As you hunt for a connection, be careful not to cross any personal boundaries that might make the seller uncomfortable.
6. Explain Your Offer
Once you’ve given a sense of yourself and why you want to live in this house, you can get down to explaining your offer. Be honest and respectful as you give context.
If you’re living in a time of bidding wars and your offer isn’t the highest, there’s no need to dance around it. You could explain that the house is your dream home, but it’s at the top of your price range and that you respectfully ask the seller to consider your offer.
If the sellers are selling and buying at the same time, you could mention your willingness to do a rent-back agreement that would allow them to lease their former house from you for a set period of time.
7. Let Them Know You Are Serious
Selling a home is a lot of work. The last thing sellers want on their hands is a buyer who slows down the process and might not even make it through closing.
Make sure your letter reiterates that you are pre-approved for a mortgage and are flexible about closing dates.
8. Mind the Length
If there’s a lot of interest in a property, sellers might receive many love letters. They may not have the time, or interest, to read long-winded missives, so keep yours short and sweet, perhaps one page.
9. Thank the Owners
The close of your letter should be as strong as the opening. This is your last chance to make an impression, weave in some personal notes, and make any final flattering remarks.
Thank the sellers for considering your offer, and let them know you are looking forward to hearing from them soon.
10. Avoid Negativity
Some things are better left unsaid, like changes you’d like to make. The sellers may have spent a long while making their home perfect in their eyes. So even if you want to open up the floor plan and pull up the carpet, it’s a good idea to keep those thoughts to yourself for now.
You don’t want to make market prices, or this particular one, sound unfair. And it’s smart to avoid pressuring the sellers in any way, as with talk about time constraints.
Finally, don’t contradict anything that might go into a purchase agreement.
In a seller’s market, a so-called love letter gives buyers a chance to distinguish themselves. Though not all real estate agents are keen on clients sending personal letters, the practice continues.
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