Nowadays, it is extremely common among home buyers to run into stiff competition for a house, especially if the house is priced well and located in a desirable neighborhood. Bonus points if it’s been recently renovated or is staged exceptionally well. Or, at least this is the norm in many cities in California.
If you or anyone you know is currently in the market to buy a home, you may have run into this situation yourself. Perhaps you found your dream home, submitted an offer, waited to hear a response and either didn’t get one, or you received a counter-offer from the listing agent advising you to send over your highest and best offer. How frustrating, right? You thought you had sent your highest and best offer.
How do you compete with those who have cash?
I’m about to share with you a trick I learned and have used successfully to get my buyers’ offers accepted over a cash buyer or cash buyers. You heard me correctly. My buyers had only the minimum amount to put down and needed financing from a lender for the rest.
But the owners took my buyer’s offer over several with cash.
Walking around a home reveals so much
The next time you tour homes with your real estate agent, bring along a notebook. Yes, you should already be writing down everything you like about a home like its oversized living room, the color of the kitchen cabinets, and the ideal place to put your TV, but what you should also notice and jot down in your notebook is what the homeowner has chosen to leave out in plain sight. Looking around a house, you can find clues about what is important to the homeowner. Even with aggressive staging, the homeowner’s priorities shine through like a beacon in a storm.
I’m not suggesting you paw through cabinets or open dresser drawers, but what I want you to do is look at what the current occupant puts on display for all to see. Notice the photos around the house. Are the people in the photos older? Do they have portraits of grown children? Are they a younger couple with an expanding family? Do they love their pets like family? Do they travel a lot?
Look at their artwork, can you tell if they are art aficionados? Do they value the environment? Are they into quotes and coffee? Do they have a sense of humor? Are they collectors of certain things?
Walking around a home reveals so much about a person or a family. Write in your notebook the things you noticed about the objects that were part of the decor. You will need this information for later.
You’ve found the home of your dreams. Congratulations. It’s so exciting to finally find something everyone in the family likes and can afford! Now you have to write the offer while attempting to get the best possible price and terms without insulting the seller–a fine line to walk. All those specific numbers should be hammered out with your agent and put in writing.
You’re done after signing the seemingly never ending forms, right? Not so fast. Here’s where you will look back at what you jotted down in your notebook about the house and the occupants. It’s the secret ingredient for getting your offer noticed.
The Personal Letter
You are going to write a personal letter to the homeowner using what you learned about what’s important to the seller during the tour of their home. It will be sent with your offer to the seller via your agent. It will not be “Dear Occupant, I loved your home. It was beautiful. Thank you for letting me see it. Sincerely, the Home Buyer.”
If you write a generic letter like that, I guarantee you have a much higher chance of your offer not being chosen if the home seller finds herself in a multiple-offer situation.
What you must do instead is to make your letter stand out from the pack. Your letter will include why you like the home and your future plans after you own it. I caution you to not mention anything about renovation or remodeling in this letter. Why? For the most part, sellers think their home is already amazing even when it is clearly not. After all, they decorated it, painted it, and hung the curtains themselves. Their home is intensely personal to them. They don’t want to know that the wallpaper and carpet is so old that you plan to rip it all out before you will even move one box of your possessions inside. They love everything about their home (even if they profess not to), and will not take kindly to what they will interpret as insults.
Don’t mention any remodeling or removing any part of the house that you plan to do. Please trust me on this if you want your offer accepted.
Another caution is that you shouldn’t be obvious in your manipulation of the homeowner. Don’t say, “I saw that you have pictures of your grandchildren everywhere. I guess this house is too big for you now that your kids are all grown. We’ll be happy in a home your size!”
You might want something similar to what I’ve written to a fictitious seller below:
“Dear Mr. & Mrs. Johnson (you should have their real names provided to you by your agent but remain formal),
What my husband and I love most about your house is how large it seems. With two children under six and another one on the way, we are looking for a home to grow into. We’re both sure which room Samantha (our oldest) will pick–the one with the window seat is the sure winner since she loves to sit in her room and read to her stuffed animals. Emily will most likely select the yellow room since yellow is her favorite color. The newest family member will take the room with the train wallpaper–yes, it’s a boy!
Tony and I wandered out to the backyard to take in the lush landscaping. We stopped under the pergola and imagined ourselves sipping iced tea and watching our children swinging on the swings and digging in the sandbox for hours. We even envisioned our new cat sleeping under one of the hydrangea bushes, carefully avoiding being trampled by little feet. What you’ve done in your garden is beautiful and we wouldn’t change a thing!
We cannot wait to invite all our friends over for a house warming party after we’re settled. Maybe we’ll even host a ‘Welcome Baby’ BBQ, too! With all the storage in the cabinets and the large backyard, we will finally have enough space to entertain–something we both like to do.
Please don’t hesitate to contact our agent if you have any questions about our offer. We love your house and hope you will allow us to be the next family to call it home.
Ann, Tony, Samantha, Emily, & Baby Smith
Notice how the letter suggests that no changes will be made (yellow room, window seat, train wallpaper, yard, cabinets). Also note that there are no complaints (We noticed the carpet is from the 70’s. What is that smell? I see you never fixed the broken fill-in-the-blank.) Any issues you have with the current state of the home should be reflected in the offer price, or brought up later after the home inspection and submitted in writing to the sellers.
Do not put anything negative in the initial letter. Keep it light, friendly, and most important, forward-thinking.
Some people have asked me if a family photo should also be submitted with the letter. I sometimes go back and forth on this but at the end of the day, my answer is usually no. Think of the TV program,”The Voice.” Each one of the celebrity judges is facing away from the performer so that they can listen to the voice without judging the appearance of the singer. I think the seller should ‘hear’ the words written rather than having a photo to prejudge a family, but the final decision to submit a photo is up to you.
While walking around a seller’s home, take notes about what you think may be important to him. You’re going to take the information and turn it into a personal letter–almost like a sales letter. You’re selling the seller on you and your offer.
Writing a personal note to the seller and submitting it with your offer may get you the home of your dreams in a multiple-offer situation.
If you’ve used my idea and it worked for you, would you let me know in the comments?
Please note: my blog post is about what worked for me as a real estate agent in California. I’m not suggesting this is a ‘no-fail’ plan. What I am providing you with is another tool for your tool belt, one more trick for your pony in a multiple-offer situation. My post may give you the edge you and your real estate professional need in order to outsmart the other buyers and live in the home of your dreams! This plan may also fail tremendously. Please discuss this option with your agent and follow their recommendations. After all, they should be the expert in their area.