After renting in Los Angeles, CA, for eight years, Jessica Arana and her husband, Nathan Stubley, decided it was time to put their money toward a mortgage. “We saw a few of our friends settle down into homes of their own, but we’d never been to an open house or knew what was realistic,” says Jessica. “Everything seemed out of reach in our market.”
The couple found a real estate agent and threw themselves into their search, familiarizing themselves with different neighborhoods and working out a budget to decide what homes they could afford. They clicked on hundreds of houses on Trulia and then hit the pavement. “We probably saw 20 to 30 houses over three weekends,” says Nathan.
One recently renovated home in the Lake Balboa neighborhood caught Jessica’s eye. “It had a red door! Who doesn’t want that in their first home?” she says. They strolled around the surrounding neighborhood and fell in love with its tree-lined streets. “It was friendly and safe and quite diverse,” Jessica recalls.
The home’s interior was just as impressive. “I walked out of the open house and said, ‘Well, that was my dream home,’” recalls Jessica. It had lots of light, vaulted ceilings, an open floor plan with a big kitchen island, and stylish fixtures. “It felt so perfect for us but also out of reach.”
But the couple didn’t let the asking price deter them. After all, the house was literally on Wish Avenue.
Their real estate agent suggested making an offer anyway. If nothing else, it would be good practice. Jessica had heard that writing a personal letter to the sellers could sometimes sway their decision. While touring the home, they noticed that the sellers were travelers and animal lovers, just like Jessica and Nathan. The couple met on a backpacking trip to Peru and then carried on an international romance before getting married in Mexico and honeymooning in New Zealand.
In their offer letter, they included those details and mentioned their unique careers — a geologist and an artist, respectively — and explained their deep desire to be part of a community and neighborhood. They also shared pictures of themselves and their rescue kittens. “We didn’t have much room to budge in our budget or the deposit amount,” says Jessica. “All we had was our lovely love story and what it would mean to us to buy this house.”
Turns out, that’s all they needed.
The sellers responded with a counteroffer one day later, and the couple answered it right away. After a few more rounds of negotiation, the sellers had accepted, with a note from their real estate agent that read: “Though your client’s offer was not the highest or best terms, my clients felt strongly about their letter and interest, and really wanted their home to go to someone who would enjoy it as much as they have.”
“We were shocked!” says Jessica. “It was incredible to have the sellers pick the right fit for the home and the neighborhood, and to help our dream come true.”
A home is a very personal investment — for both buyers and sellers. After all, when you’ve invested your time in taking care of a home and have built memories there, you’re bound to be a bit attached to the place. And when you’re selling a piece of your memories, emotions can sometimes outweigh profits.
“The more personalized the letter, the more likely you are to actually tug a seller’s heartstrings, and that’s the point, right?” says Jeff Johnson, a real estate agent in Colorado Springs, CO.
Jessica and Nathan aren’t the only buyers who have won over their sellers with a personal home offer letter. When Karen McConnell and her husband were house-hunting in the competitive Boston, MA, real estate market, they were often outbid by rival buyers who offered to waive mortgage and inspection contingencies to close the deal. “We weren’t willing to do that,” says Karen.
When they found their must-have home, they tried the personal touch. “In addition to offering more than the asking price, we included a letter explaining why it was the perfect house for us, how we were returning to the area to raise our family, and how we loved the thoughtful, family-friendly features of the house,” she says. “It certainly helped to humanize the process, and we still exchange holiday cards with the former owners!”
“I always encourage my clients to write a letter if there are multiple offers, a very competitive environment, or if we are heavily negotiating,” says Carrie Levitt Kaplan, a real estate agent in Stamford, CT. “It’s not always about the dollar amount. Sellers can have a real emotional attachment to their home and want to know that it’s going to a good family.”
That’s what happened to Genevieve Jones when she and her family were shopping for a historic home in the suburbs of Chicago, IL. “Originally, the sellers declined our offer, but they were an older couple who had been in our phase of life with young kids when they bought the home,” says Genevieve. She mentioned this — and her family’s previous experience owning a historic home in Tuxedo Park, NY — in her letter. “It really mattered to them. Their real estate agent told us it was the letter that got us the home.”
Since closing on their new home in December, Jessica and Nathan have been committed to preserving its natural beauty. The couple have enrolled in gardening classes and now spend their free time composting and working on their vegetable garden. They’ve also embraced their new neighbors, hosting an Easter egg hunt for the kids next door and putting out dog treats on holidays for their four-legged friends. “Our neighbors regularly watch out for us, and everyone is so friendly and homey. It’s definitely a shift from living in a city,” says Jessica. “I don’t know what else we could have asked for!”
You have the best chance to win over sellers when your letter is honest, personable, and concise. “If a buyer can emotionally connect in some way with the seller, it can make a big difference in the way their offer is viewed,” says Jen Birmingham, a real estate agent in Petaluma, CA. However, “it is important to keep the letter concise and not go overboard in the storytelling,” says Birmingham. “An overly emotional letter can evoke a negative response from the seller.”
Your offer letter might make a personal connection, but an offer letter alone won’t land you the house. It should complement a competitive package (the monetary bid, closing date, and contingencies).