Should you use a personal letter to buy a home?
Yes, buying a home is transactional. But it’s also incredibly emotional.
For sellers, they’re saying goodbye to a place that might have been their home for years. For buyers, a new home represents all their hopes and dreams for the future: A place for their children to grow up, or a place for them to grow old (or both). While homebuying is a transaction like any other, the item for sale—a home—can stir up a whole lot of feelings.
A personal letter, written by the buyer to the seller outlining why they would be a good fit for the home, makes use of those emotions. Though personal letters aren’t always used in real estate, they may be an effective tool, particularly in competitive markets, for buyers to stand out. In certain cases, they can also persuade a buyer to accept a lower offer due to the circumstances outlined in a personal letter.
So, should you use one? Real estate experts differ on the value of the personal letter in real estate. Keep reading for the pros and cons to using a personal letter, and be sure to ask your own real estate agent their position on a personal letter before you proceed with writing one.
Benefits of a Personal Letter
“A ‘love letter’ from a buyer to a seller is a great way of humanizing the buyers and making an offer stand out in a competitive bid situation,” says William Fastow, associate broker at TTR Sotherby’s International Realty in Washington, D.C. Fastow says a letter should accompany an offer and include three main points.
“The letter should speak first to the buyers enthusiasm for the house,” he says, urging buyers to be as descriptive as possible and include what they like about the home and why they are making the offer.
“Second, tell the seller a little bit about yourself, your family, and what you intend to use the house for. Sellers are often very attached to their homes and can be attracted to the idea of a buyer using it in a similar fashion as they did,” he says.
“Finally, thank the seller for taking the time to consider an offer, and let them know how much you appreciate the opportunity to bid on their home.”
Fastow says he doesn’t always recommend a personal letter, but “it never hurts” in multiple offer situations where buyers might benefit from having an edge.
Brooke Bors, a financial adviser, believes a personal letter gave her that edge in her own homebuying experience with her husband, who works as a real estate professional.
“For our first home, we knew our offer was low, but we were in our early 20s and couldn’t afford to offer any more,” she said. Since the woman who owned the building had owned for many years, Bors says she and her husband had a feeling the property had sentimental value.
“We wrote her a handwritten letter explaining who we were and the plans we had,” Bors says. “We even included a picture of the two of us so she would have faces to the names.” In Bors’ case, the tactic worked.
“I truly believe without that letter, the previous owner would not have accepted our offer,” she says. “By sharing our story, we made the transaction more personal—she wouldn’t have been rejecting an offer, she would’ve been rejecting a young couple who were trying to start a life together.”
While Fastow says a letter can bring an edge in a multiple offer situation, the purely personal angle could be what clinches an offer, says Erica Hartwig, a wedding photographer in Boca Raton. Though Hartwig isn’t a real estate professional, she shared her personal letter success after losing her house in Hurricane Irma.
“I have five children, one being a foster child,” Hartwig says. “The house had been on the market for 15 months, and the real estate agent selling it was just not interested.” Hartwig found the seller on Facebook and sent them a direct message. “We ended up getting the house,” she says.
Cons to a Personal Letter
Hartwig’s heartwarming story was a success in her case, but it also illustrates a potential downside to providing a personal letter.
Letters with too much personal information—while painting a clear picture—can sometimes put the seller in a precarious position. If a seller were to turn down someone who wrote a personal letter containing sensitive or overly personal information, the would-be buyer may have grounds to file an FHA discrimination lawsuit against the seller, says Shawn Breyer, owner of Breyer Home Buyers in Atlanta.
“If you're going to submit a personal letter, be aware that the seller will have discrimination laws that they have to abide by,” Beyers says. “Don't talk about personal aspects of your life that could potentially be held against you by an individual selling their home, including your family, age, race, religion, sex or handicaps.”
Instead, Beyers suggests focusing on your plans for the home.
“Maybe the family spent a whole summer together building the paved patio and fire pit in the backyard, and there's a lot of emotion tied to it. If your letter talks about how much you like that aspect of the house and how you're going to keep it and use it, that could set you apart from your competition by giving the sellers peace of mind that you're not tearing apart what they built.”
Other real estate professionals—including Patrick Keating, a Keller Williams Realtor serving the Tampa, Florida and Montclair, New Jersey regions—think a personal letter shouldn’t enter the real estate transaction at all.
“While on the surface this may seem like a great idea, a personal letter can sometimes have the opposite impact when it comes to the negotiation side of the deal. By telling the seller all about yourself, and how much you like what they have done to their home, including how you can picture yourself enjoying the remodeled kitchen, for example, you may be sending the message that you are willing to pay more than what you are currently offering, as well telling them in writing how emotionally invested you are in their home.”
The buyer might think the letter helped them get an offer accepted, says Keating, when in reality a seller’s agent might have advised them to accept the offer since they know how much the buyer loves the home. Later in the process, when a buyer is under contract and trying to negotiate an inspection repair or a low appraisal, the seller might fall back on that letter, Keating says.
“The seller may think that the buyer will not be as likely to walk away from a home they are so emotionally invested in and may keep that letter in their back pocket to use to their advantage during such times.”
Overall, Keating says, it’s much more important for a buyer to partner with a real estate agent who’s a strong negotiator to protect the buyer’s best interests.