I write from personal experience of buying a home in the Bay Area.
If California is your home, you have most definitely heard of this very common real estate practice. If California is not your home, welcome! Moving here and taking the plunge to purchase a home entails a process that, to the outside world, might seem irrational or unjustifiable. But to those of us who live here, sharing stories about how 'John Doe' outbid the other interested parties and managed to close on his house has become a natural part of our daily conversations. Everyone who lives here and has bought a house here has a story, and we seem to eat up the creative strategies people employ to turn their dreams into realities.
I am writing with firsthand knowledge about purchasing a home in the Bay Area, and more specifically the stretch of land south of San Francisco down to the Silicon Valley, referred to locally as 'The Peninsula'. The area is known to be very affluent, including two of the top 25 wealthiest counties in the United States. It is one of the most expensive regions to live in across the whole country.
Why Prices Are so High in the Bay Area
House prices are inflated in the San Francisco Bay Area because of a number of factors that have been and will remain constant over time. Its natural beauty attracts people from all over the world. It is densely populated, and it has limited land for new development. Our access to the outdoors is plentiful: We have the ocean to the west, mountains to the east, and wine country to the north. Our climate is mild in winters and summers, and we say goodbye to the rain (without fail) from May to October. This is a lifestyle and an equation that cannot be beat.
Well, except for the reality of purchasing a home. Truth be told, for the 'average' family, the math works out like in any other area. Our discretionary income is very comparable with the rest of the country, primarily because the higher cost of living offsets the increased income. So when it comes time to settle down, grow some roots, and buy a house, you almost have to believe in magic.
A Personal Letter Can Enhance an Offer
Short of relying on your coolest tricks, consider the alternative. With a good real estate agent at your side who will maximize your buying potential, you as the home buyer can play a critical role. How? Consider writing a personal letter to accompany your offer on the house. It is something we did, and I would like to believe, packed a punch.
Why Writing a Personal Letter Is Helpful
Since stiff competition is the unfortunate reality of the California housing market, it would be ideal to verbalize your interest and negotiate an offer before a home goes on the market. This strategy would avoid the bidding wars that typically ensue when a new real estate listing surfaces. In addition, it would be a significant means to save on steep realtor fees, which can then be added directly to the bottom line of your offer price. However, the luxury of preemptively engaging the seller to ward off the competition requires financial commitments and personal connections that are often out of reach.
It Helps Persuade the Seller in Your Favor
Writing a personal letter to accompany the offer on a house is an effective tactic to try to persuade the seller to decide in your favor when many other aspects of your purchase power seem to be out of your immediate control. It is 'free of charge' to the interested buyer and merely requires your time and thoughtfulness. In short, by doing so, you have nothing to lose, and possibly much to gain.
Personal touches can make the difference between one offer and the next because, by and large, owners develop a deep connection to and lasting memories of their homes. Moving often requires making changes that are very difficult in nature, and the seller is eager to find a family who truly recognizes the value of their home. They have an underlying need to feel that their home will remain in good hands and is appreciated by the buyer.
This dynamic seems to be at work especially in smaller towns where neighbors are not just people living next door but also part of the community. They want to leave a legacy behind as someone who cared about the neighborhood and considered the change on a larger scale. So make your offer stand out from the rest (and I can almost assure you there will be many) by attaching a personal note. But first read on to find out how.
Key Ingredients to Writing a Personal Letter for Home Purchase
The following are a few key points to consider when drafting your letter.
- Typing your letter is absolutely acceptable as long as you sign it in person. It will ensure that it looks clean and professional. Spell-check is a no-brainer.
- Keep the length of your letter to one page, maximum.
- Whenever possible, address the letter to the owner by first name. This creates an immediate feeling of personal connection.
- If possible, try to get a sense of the circumstances prompting the sale of this home. Include language in your letter that communicates your understanding of the (possible) hardship the situation creates. If this is a local move for you and you have common friends, this is an easy step to take. Otherwise, air on the side of caution and insert language about the difficulty a move creates. It is no wonder moving is listed among life's most stressful events.
- Ensure the seller that you are eager to move forward quickly, but that respecting their privacy and timeline (instead of yours) will drive the process.
- Communicate a sense to the seller that your interest in their home is definite and for the long-term. Your commitment to the purchase and the home creates a sense of security for the seller and facilitates the process of having them let go.
- List two or three key advantages that you appreciate about the home and explain why they are so important to you.
- Elaborate why you are looking to make this change. Make your list applicable to your life and speak from the heart. Openness is key here.
- Ensure the seller that you recognize the time and work that they have invested in their home and that you will do everything possible to maintain it accordingly. There is nothing more heartbreaking than returning to an old home and seeing it neglected.
- Close your letter by thanking the seller for their interest and wish them best of luck with their upcoming move.
- Ask your real estate agent to attach the letter to your offer.
The following is an abbreviated version of the letter I wrote for our recent home purchase.
It is with heartfelt anticipation that we are writing to express our interest in your home on (address). We understand from some of our common friends that your departure from (name of town) has been a difficult decision, to which end we very much respect the privacy and timing surrounding your move. And while we could never replace your presence of the block, we would sincerely appreciate the opportunity to become a great new addition.
Although neither one of us is a native of (name of state), we have lived in (name of town) since (year) and, for several reasons, we are committed to making your house our long-term home. First, our children were born in (name of town) and we feel extremely grateful for the many benefits of raising our family in this small yet dynamic. We remain actively involved in our neighborhood as (example of community/volunteer jobs).
Second, during times when we prepare to welcome change, we are reminded that proximity to outstanding medical care as well as our friends remains of utmost importance. Over the last two years, we have gained a deeper appreciation for the nationally recognized specialized care available to us via (name of hospitals). And as with many of life’s challenges, we are profoundly grateful for the care and support of our community in (name of town) which has proven over and over again to be a much treasured extension of our family.
Third, your home’s location is truly unmatched as we have watched our children enjoy the kid-friendly lifestyle of your cul-de-sac. As a whole family, we very much appreciate the great (and increasingly rare) freedom of unstructured outdoor play as well as spontaneous conversation. We have always enjoyed the camaraderie among the families and the sense of unity among your neighbors.
While we have very much enjoyed our first (and current) house at (address), we have outgrown its footprint. After touring your house today, we immediately fell in love with the charm and floor plan of your home. We especially admired the privacy and layout of the bedrooms, the spacious yet cozy family room, as well as your gorgeous backyard. We absolutely consider your home move-in ready and will maintain it as you remember it.
Thank you for considering our offer on your beautiful home. We wish you and your family best of luck with your move and a smooth transition for all to (name of town). May you come back often to visit.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Michael Luckado from Hawaii on December 18, 2012:
Great idea. Anyone whose lived in their home for any length of time would love to see it go to a deserving person or family.