Real Estate News

The secret to outbidding the competition for a California home? Write the seller a love letter

Home buying season is in full throttle. And despite high prices, that often means multiple offers on popular houses in Sacramento and around California. What’s a buyer to do to stand out?

Write a “love letter,” experts now say.

Sacramento real estate agents say they increasingly are advising clients to write personal, heartfelt notes telling sellers about themselves, and notably what they love about their house.

“It will resonate with the sellers’ emotions,” said Realtor Erin Stumpf of Coldwell Banker. “If the seller can identify with why you like the house, they will pick your offer.”

It’s hardly a guarantee, though. A house sale is primarily a financial transaction, marketers said. Dollars speak louder than words.

“Most home sellers aren’t looking to walk away from the transaction (with) less money than they could otherwise get, along with a consolation prize like a nice letter or gift basket,” economist Mark Hamrick says. “The financial qualifications of buyers or bidders is most important, particularly in situations where there are multiple prospective buyers.”

But a not-so-hidden reality about home sales transactions is that they can be emotional events. Sellers are saying goodbye to a place that has helped define their lives. Perhaps they raised their family there. Some may accept a lower bid from a family rather than sell to an investor who’s going to rent it out or a flipper who’s going to rip out the rugs, redo the floors and immediately resell.

A small thing can turn the trick, agent Sue Olson said. A client of hers recently got a house after sending a letter with a family picture that included their golden retriever. It turns out the seller had a golden retriever too.

Koy Saeteurn, 28, and her husband Daniel Saechao, 29, recently beat out 12 other bidders for a starter home in Elk Grove, thanks to a note they wrote about growing up as first-generation Americans and about their plans to start a family in the home. They included photos of their wedding day.

“We can tell that your home holds many memories of raising young children,” they wrote, “many family dinners cooked in your cozy kitchen and evenings spent enjoying barbeques in your beautiful back yard.

“These are things we can imagine as we walked through this home as an embodiment of our American dream. We would love the opportunity to continue to cherish this home as much as you have.”

Homeowner Waleska Banegas says she received seven letters from prospective buyers. She and her agent Dan Massey of Lyon Real Estate spent hours going through the offers. She chose Saeteurn and Saechao because they reminded her of her younger self. Like them, she is from an immigrant family, raised in the Central Valley. And, like Saeteurn, she is a University of California, Davis, grad.

“I could relate to them on so many levels,” Banegas said. She raised two daughters in the home. “I would really want for them to have a family in my home, because that is what I did.”

Koy Saeteurn, 28, and husband Daniel Saechao, 29, talk to the seller of their new home, Waleska Banegas, in Elk Grove on Wednesday, May 29, 2019. The couple wrote a “love letter” to the seller about the home and their plans for it that included photos of their wedding and their dog. Daniel Kim

Personal notes are not new. But agents say they have become more common in Sacramento in recent years as the market got hot, putting sellers in the driver’s seat and pushing buyers to find ways to distinguish themselves.

Now, some agents say they will tell their clients to write personal letters even if their offer is the only one on a house. That way, when it gets down to negotiating who pays for required repairs, it’s less likely to become adversarial and the deal is less likely to fall apart, Stephanie Gallagher of Dunnigan Realtors said.

“You’re more likely to (decide) let’s not nickel and dime them,” she said. When Gallagher submits a bid, she places her client’s personal letter on top of the document pile so the seller sees it even before getting to the offer sheet.

Now that many bidders write letters, it can sometimes become a writing competition, with some homework thrown in, agents say. Gallagher keeps a file of winning letters to show to new clients. She also will research the seller and advise her client on ways they can connect with the seller. She will edit, correct grammar and even print letters in the font that seems best for the moment.

She’s currently representing a seller, though, who is unsentimental and wants the best price possible. Gallagher has warned other real estate agents not to come in with letters that are too syrupy. “It might work against you,” she said.

Kim Squaglia of Tim Collom Realtor Group said she also reviews client’s letters and guides the client if she knows particular things about the seller.

She recently encouraged a successful bidder to mention the non-profit agency the buyer worked for because she had some clues the seller would identify with that group. She will tell a nurse, firefighter or teacher to let buyers know what their occupation is. Conversely, she said, she might counsel an attorney not to mention that occupation if she thinks a skittish seller might be worried about a lawsuit.

But, she said, it comes down to the sincerity of the client.

“I tell them to write from their heart, and always compliment the property,” she said. “And be honest.”

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