In a world where an ”XO” text message or Facebook relationship status change signifies deep emotion, the long-form love letter seems to be a dying art. So it is somewhat surprising that the seemingly cut-and-dry, numbers-and-negotiation-riddled realm of real estate is one of the last bastions of the love letter.
Many agents advise both their buyers and sellers to keep a calm, cool and collected demeanor throughout the transaction, out of concern that demonstrating emotion will spark greedy sentiments and advantage-taking desires in the hearts of the folks on the other side of the table. And there’s truth in this: walking into a house and salivating is never advisable. But there are some times when putting your heart on your sleeve - and your pen to paper to express your love for a home you’re buying or selling - is just what your transaction needs to bring things together and get you the results you want.
1. Seller → Buyer: Video Love Letter. Your agent might be telling you that video is THE NEXT BIG THING in marketing a home. And you know what? They’re right. In a recent survey of house hunters, 70 percent cited “touring a certain home” as their reason for viewing videos in the course of their search for a home - and 86 percent said their purpose for watching a video was to learn about a particular area. Fifty-one percent of them pointed to YouTube as their primary video source.
Many home marketing videos are simple tours of the property. But what makes a video a love letter expressing why you love the house (and why a buyer will, too) is ensuring that the swoon-worthy features of the home actually make it into the video! If you have a delightful backyard, have the videographer shoot it alight at night, as well as during the day. If there are custom built-ins, high-end appliances or secret spaces with smart organizers inside - there should be shots of these things, rather than just a couple of broad sweeps of the camera across the room.
If your neighborhood is the epicenter for local shops, farmer’s markets and such, have the videographer incorporate and label shots of these things - ideally after the footage of the house - to paint the fuller picture for the viewer of the full experience of life in your home. If you’d like to do some sort of personal narration about how much you have loved living in this home, and expressing heartfelt best wishes for the next owner, that can be a nice touch - but keep it uber-short.
Work with your agent to be sure the YouTube description of your video includes a link to the home’s Trulia listing, and vice versa. Also make sure the name of your town, neighborhood and “home for sale” appear in the YouTube description of your video love letter about your home, to make it more likely that the right folks will find it when searching the web. 2. Buyer → Seller: Multiple Offers. So, you finally found the one. Perfect porch - swing included. Coffee shop downstairs in the building. Gingerbread-laden Victorian ready for fixing. Whatever floats your boat, as they say. The only thing is, there are about 5, 15 or 50 other people who think this property is their one - and all of them are making offers to buy it.
As a buyer, there’s no better time to write the seller a love letter about their home than when you are competing in earnest with other offers. (Logistically, this is something your agent will include when they submit your offer and loan approval documentation.)
In fact, the love letter should briefly explain why you like their home, but it should also go into more detail about your love for your family, your life, your career, your town, etc. and why you think their home is the perfect launching pad for the next stage of all of these relationships. It is not overkill to humanize yourself or your family by including a photo - pics of babies and dogs go over well, though some agents feel that photos can work against you in cases of an ornery or biased seller.
That said, it’s essential to think through the multiple offer love letter in the overall context of the fever-pitched negotiations. Will a love letter help you beat out offers of tens of thousands of dollars more than yours? No, it won’t - so it’s essential that even if you do write a love letter, you still make your most competitive offer, price-wise, in light of the comparables, your budget and your level of desire to secure the place.
So what, then, is the advantage you gain from writing a love letter? It might get you a counter-offer when you would normally have gotten an outright rejection. It might get you the leg up on a buyer offering the same amount of money, when the seller is already aware that that dollar is the most the place will appraise for (so countering for more is not a great option). And it might get you some seller graces and above-and-beyond cooperation later in the transaction, like furnishings thrown in or time extension requests granted, if you are the victorious winner. So, for something that costs nothing, it might just be worth it, even if the chances it will help you best a buyer offer thousands more than you are between slim and none.
3. Seller → Buyer: Written Home/Neighborhood Love Letter. It should be clear at this stage of the game that your house will need to speak for itself - it’s location, condition, price and even staging create a holistic package that buyers will scrutinize in evaluating whether or not it’s a love match. But when you have a beautiful home in a fantastic neighborhood, it can still be a powerful thing to have a love letter about your home and neighborhood, with a few other extras, sitting in a binder on your counter.
Buyers fantasize about how happy their families are and will be in the property - so letting them know about the years of joy your family has experienced there only adds to the good vibes.
Buyers might not know all the charming, fun or convenient amenities your neighborhood has to offer. I have lived and run in my neighborhood for almost four years, and just stumbled across a new secret staircase into the park by the lake last week! If your home is otherwise likely to be sought-after by hikers, dog-walkers, foodies or film buffs and your neighborhood has amazing offerings for those types of folks, say so in your love letter. I’ve seen an amazing binder filled with a family’s love letter about their home, their neighbors and their neighborhood, complete with a list of all their favorite neighborhood vendors, restaurants, the names and numbers of their housekeeper and gardener - and even some menus from the restaurants that deliver to the address!
Many listing agents are starting to include any pre-listing inspection reports and disclosures in a binder that remains in the property during showings, as well as being emailed to buyers’ brokers in digital format upon their request. These “disclosure packets,” which tend to increase the chances of getting an as-is offer up front, and reduce the chances that the buyer will try to renegotiate mid-stream, are a great spot to include your love letter and any supporting materials. If there’s something that needs major fixing in your home, and you want to explain anything about it, this might be a good place. If you’ve invested thousands in upgrading it, this is a good place to brief the buyer on that, too.
Work with your agent to create a strategy about what details to include, and make sure your agent signs off on the final version before you put it out for the world to see.
4. Buyer → Seller: Unlisted Home. Did you ever see the War of the Roses, with Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny deVito? At the beginning of the Roses’ ill-fated marriage, they found a storybook home that wasn’t on the market by stalking it, writing a note to the seller and ultimately, being in the right place at the right time when the elderly seller passed away.
This sort of thing does actually happen, on occasion, in real life - a buyer actively pursues a home that is not for sale, simply because they love it, and the seller agrees to sell. This is tricky territory, as often:
buyers seeking an unlisted home can be seeking to get an infeasibly low price or seller-financed deal, which the seller has no reason to accept (i.e., before accepting a lowball offer, the seller would put it on the market)
sellers simply have no interest in selling the place, or they would have it on the market
some scam artists send seemingly handwritten letters to sellers en masse, making them skeptical of the occasional legitimate buyer who writes them a love letter
sellers might have unrealistic expectations about what they should get for the home, or only be willing to sell for top dollar
there are legal restrictions in some states on making proactive approaches to home sellers who are behind on their mortgage or in some state of foreclosure, which wanna-be buyers should take care to observe (a quick consult with your own broker or a real estate attorney is in order, before you send a seller a love letter on an unlisted home).
That said, if you’re looking for a very unusual type of property in a market where few are sold (e.g., an equestrian property near the city) or there are only a few homes in your area that fit your specifications, it’s not a bad idea to submit letters putting sellers on notice that you are interested in their property and would love to discuss buying it. If the seller does bite, you would be well-advised to bring a broker, attorney or title/escrow professional into the transaction to ensure that everyone’s rights are protected and responsibilities are met in the course of the transaction.
Buyers (Past and Present): Have you ever written a love letter about a seller’s home? Did it work? Have you ever read one? Did you find it compelling?
Sellers (Past and Present): Do you have a success story about using a love letter - written or video - to help sell your home? Do tell!
Agents: What advice do you give your clients on best practices for timing and content of property love letters?