The Art of the Personal Letter

by Tom Hume

Seattle is pricing many Seattleites out of its market. Some of the exiled will become Tacomans. This is good in some ways, but it is putting added pressure on our thin real estate inventory. As you read this a properly priced Tacoma home is inciting a bidding frenzy. Would-be buyers are trying every trick in the book to outmaneuver one another and get into a home.  

One couple has been outbid on five attempts; muscled out by cash offers escalating well over list. They recently found a home that was perfect. Mrs. Buyer is a wounded vet, and this north end home offered one level living and space for her physical therapy equipment. Furthermore, there was even a dog run for Charlie, their Lab-Shepherd mix. The listing attracted four offers in 24 hours. We constructed ours and included a personal letter to the sellers. While I don’t recommend a personal letter in every situation, it can be useful a bidding war. Sellers are weighing multiple offers and myriad terms with little to distinguish one from the next. So it can make a difference if your humanity shines through.

This buyer’s letter included a photo of the family, with Charlie the dog, a comment about her military service and mentioned what a dream it would be to have everything on one floor because of her ankle injury. These elements would naturally appeal to a “people person”. They might respect her service or relate to her injury and what it must be like to cope with it day to day. And the photo showed the human face behind our offer (as well as the canine face!) But there was also information for the brass tacks pragmatist. The letter demonstrated the reasons the buyer was motivated to see the transaction through. In a competitive offer situation the results oriented seller is going to want to choose a strong buyer who is unlikely to back out.

As it happens we were writing to a people person. I know because she wrote the buyers a thank-you letter after accepting their offer and specifically said she was happy the home was going to a family who loves dogs. So on the sixth attempt, at last they were able to buy a home. Our offer was among the strongest anyway, but the listing agent shared that the letter was useful in putting us over the top.    

Here are some tips, should you find yourself writing a personal letter to a home seller:

  • Give your offer a face; consider including a photo.
  • Be sincere and specific about what appeals to you. Choose 2 or 3 features and explain what you love about them. The seller may feel flattered by the complement, they might appreciate that the home is going to someone with great taste, they might get a sense of who you are, or they may simply appreciate knowing you are motivated.                                                                                 
  • Have someone proofread. If you have been on the internet you know that a large chunk of the population does not give two hoots about spelling, punctuation or grammar, but many do, such as your former English teacher. The seller might actually be an English teacher, in which case a letter rife with errors will be like fingernails on a blackboard.   
  • Keep it to half a page. The seller is evaluating a lot of information and is likely to invest one minute or less.
  • Avoid writing about the changes you want to make to the house.
  • Show that you are a stable buyer, perhaps with many years in the same career.    
  • Keep it positive. While my client mentioned an ankle injury in her letter, it was not done in a way meant to elicit sympathy. In fact, the point was to show how great it was to find a one-level home because it would make getting around easier.
  • Thank the seller for considering your offer.
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