Tis’ the Season For *Love* Letters

It is February, and February means L O V E .  Well, for some it does- at least for the first half of the month!

Have you ever written a love letter to a special someone?  Did that letter spell out what it was you loved about them, or how you felt?  I remember being in the 3rd grade and writing a love letter to my special crush, Shea.  He was adorable.  Wore glasses, had the best smile, and a freckle next to his nose.  He was so dreamy!

I remember pretending we were already married; but in the 3rd grade all that meant was taking his last name and writing it next to mine.  That was the extent of my love letter to Shea.  But there were other girls who had the same crush, and unfortunately ‘my letter” did not win because his heart belonged to Michelle.  I was crushed.

That process reminds me a little of what it is like to be a buyer in today’s competitive market.  You find a house you love, submit an offer, only to have your heart crushed when your offer is rejected.

There is one way to make your offer stand out, and that is to write your own love letter to the Seller.

A love letter to the home seller puts a human face on your bid. With a letter, you are no longer just a number on a piece of paper. You are someone who loves the home, who has a backstory, who can envision making a new life there. If you are lucky, you’ll tug at some heartstrings.

Here in the East Bay real estate market, love letters are expected. More than 90 percent of hopeful homebuyers in Alameda County and 40 percent in Contra Costa County include personal letters, photographs and sometimes videos with their offer packets.

To be clear, we are not recommending prose that’s sappy, flowery or in iambic pentameter. Here are some Do’s and Don’ts:

Love Letter Do’s

  • Be authentic. There are templates you can use for a little guidance to get started (Google “love letter to seller”). But once you have your bearings, veer away from the template to avoid being obvious and impersonal.
  • Stick to one page. Sellers don’t have time or interest in reading your life story.
  • Write about how amazing the home is. Be specific about details you love. Do you adore the neighborhood, too? Tell the seller.
  • Introduce yourself and family members. Include your careers, how you and your partner met, where you grew up, hobbies, etc. – anything that’s relevant or interesting. Include the kids and pets.
  • Describe what brought you to this house. If you have an interesting house-hunting story, include it.
  • Envision the future. Give the sellers a glimpse into your happy future, whether it includes raising a family, planting an epic vegetable garden, cooking holiday meals in the chef’s kitchen or hiking neighborhood trails with your pup.
  • Find common ground. While touring the property, did you notice anything you have in common with the homeowner? Favorite sports team, children, pets, career, hobby, hometown, college, design aesthetic? If the house has been fully staged, finding clues will be impossible. Ask your real estate agent for sleuthing help. (No, nothing stalkerish.)
  • Format your letter to stand out. Now that letters are so common, make yours pop with images and fonts (but nothing too difficult to read). Get creative!
  • Consider adding a short video. Personal videos are the new trend in highly competitive markets. All it takes is a smart phone camera and editing tool. (*See our note below about photos and videos.)

Love Letter Don’ts

  • Don’t use a template. It’s obvious and impersonal.
  • Don’t start with “From the moment we walked in the door.” It’s overused.
  • Don’t try to negotiate with the seller. This is a love letter, remember?
  • Don’t discuss remodeling plans. Flatter – don’t insult – the home and its owner.
  • Don’t gush. You’ll sound insincere if you come on too strongly.
  • Don’t go too far afield. Abio co-founder and associate broker Linnette Edwards tells the story of would-be buyers who wrote about their love for a home’s giant walk-in pantry. They envisioned themselves hanging out in the pantry late at night, sitting on the floor and gorging on candy. The quirky letter backfired by grossing out the sellers.

* Note of Caution to Sellers about Photos and Videos

Although images are a common component in the love letter to sellers, they may create fair housing concerns. The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits sellers from selecting or denying a buyer based on race, religion, color, national origin, sex, family status or disability. A validated complaint can result in a $10,000 fine. We do not know of any particular local instances where this has happened related to a “love letter” to the seller, but we encourage sellers to be aware of the law.

Now if I had only had this list of do’s and don’ts, Shea might have been crushing on me instead.