Purchasing your first home is always a daunting proposition, but the current market is making it even more challenging for prospective buyers. Inventory is low nationwide, and 1 in 5 houses in the U.S. is selling above asking price, according to Zillow.
In order to succeed in this seller's market, house hunters need to have strong offers that include good credit histories, solid down payments, and even a willingness to limit contingencies. However, real estate experts say there's one extra step that prospective buyers should take to make their offers really stand out: Write a personal note to the seller.
These kinds of letters "do work," says Sue Riley, a real estate agent in highly competitive Northern New Jersey. "They show that the buyer has connected."
As nerve-wracking as homebuying is for the purchasers, it can be equally emotional for sellers, especially those who have lived in the house for a long a time, Riley points out. A note from a buyer that includes personal details about the family or the buyer's hopes for the future can tell the seller, "I will care for that home just like you did," she says.
Leigh Marcus, a real estate agent in Chicago, agrees: Sellers with an emotional attachment to their homes want to see themselves in the new owners.
"They want it to go to a good buyer and something that they can relate to," Marcus says. "When a buyer writes the letter — the kind where the sellers can see who they were when they were buying — that resonates a lot with them."
Debra Hall, a real estate agent in Northern Virginia, says that prospective buyers should "absolutely" include personal notes when making an offer.
When Hall was motivated by the current market to sell her home earlier this year, she received 19 offers before the listing was even active. She eventually sold her house to a couple that not only included a note but also a picture of their family and their dog.
"It appealed to us because their kids were the exact same ages as our kids when we purchased the house," Hall says. "And we had a dog, and it just reminded us of ourselves."
Based on her professional experience as a real estate agent and as a recent home seller herself, Hall says that a note "1,000% works."
Part of the note's appeal is that so few offers include them: Of the 19 offers Hall received on her home, only six included a note, she says.
Marcus says that number is even lower in his experience: He estimates that only 5% to 10% of offers include notes.
While experts agree that a note will almost always work in a buyer's favor, you'll still need to make sure your offer is in line with the rest of the competition. For profit-minded sellers receiving very high-priced, cash offers, notes may matter less, or won't matter at all.
"Sometimes you don't get those sellers who really care. They care about the the bottom line, which is the money," Riley says. "They don't really care about a note or anything else."
Video by Richard Washington
Riley cites the current situation in Northern New Jersey, where the influx of new buyers from New York City has overwhelmed the market of homes for sale. A sizable portion of those buyers — 15% to 20% — are bidding above asking price and offering cash, and cash offers are tough to beat, Riley says.
There is much lower risk for sellers accepting a cash offer, though: They don't have to worry about the deal falling through if the buyer can't secure funding through a traditional mortgage, for example.
"A lot of people come over from the city who were renting big dollar apartments," she says. "They have a lot of money saved up, they have great careers over there, and they're coming over here and they're paying cash."
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