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In home bidding wars, love letters can seal a deal

Annie Baxter Jul 22, 2015
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In many real estate markets around the country, a shortage of homes for sale is creating stiff competition among buyers. In order to stand out in a possible bidding war, some buyers try to win favor by writing a personal appeal to the seller. 

“When the listing for your home came up online, we fell in love,” wrote Becca Schulman Havemeyer in a letter to the seller of a four bedroom home in the Boston area. “We love the charm and character of your home and can tell that your family cherished it as well.”

The Havemeyers had tried to boost their chances of getting the house by offering more than the list price. They also included an “escalation clause” in the offer, saying they’d be willing to bid yet higher, in case it came to that.

Schulman Havemeyer says the financial extras didn’t move the seller, who initially went with another bidder. But when that deal fell through, the seller turned to the Havemeyers because of their letter.  

“I’ve confirmed with her, because we’ve now been in touch, that she loved our letter and loved thinking about a family — a young family — coming into her home and having new memories there and honoring it in a different way,” Schulman Havemeyer says.

Potential homebuyers have used the love letter tactic for years in tight markets. But the letters may be more necessary today as way to get sellers’ attentions. Demand for homes outstrips supply in many cities, properties are selling quickly, and sellers may enjoy multiple bid offers.

“I want the seller to feel the humanness of the bid,” says Kat Wies, a Durham, N.C.-based realtor who regularly includes a cover letter with her clients’ offers.

Wies’s letters aren’t just a big wet kiss, though. She says she describes what the potential buyers like about the house.

“But you also want to describe the things the potential buyers would need to spend money on,” she says.

Some realtors say potential buyers need to be cautious not to spill their guts along with their ink, as the strategy can backfire. Even the Havemeyers, who penned love letters themselves, chafed at receiving them in return.

Will Havemeyer says it felt odd to read about how much someone else would enjoy the home he put a lot of work into. He still thought of it as his house.

“Hearing someone else talk about how they’re going to live in it is hard to take,” he says.

In that case, where words failed, money still talked. The winning bidders whose letter didn’t sit right did ultimately prevail — but Havemeyer says it was largely because they were paying cash.