Andrew Aitkens stepped into a white stucco bungalow across the street from a park in northeast Minneapolis, and it immediately felt like home.
He wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Sitting in the park with his girlfriend after looking at the house, Aitkens noticed several other potential buyers arrive. The couple were prepared to offer more than the $176,500 asking price but realized that might not be enough. So right on the spot, he started writing a letter to the owner of the house.
The letter said that he and his girlfriend were especially fond of a mural of a Schell’s beer label the seller had painted on a basement wall. And he described his childhood on a nearby street. “It felt so good and so perfect to be there again,” he wrote. “This is a chance of a lifetime.”
In an interview later, Aitkens said, “It seemed like the only thing we could do to put ourselves in a better situation than the other buyers.”
With sellers possessing all the power in the hypercompetitive Twin Cities home market, more and more buyers are trying to appeal to them by writing personal letters, filled with glossy family photos and wistful descriptions of how it felt they first time they laid eyes on the house.
Jason Stockwell, a real estate agent, said a well-crafted letter can be so powerful that some sellers take a lower offer. “Some sellers cry,” Stockwell said.
People who have lived in a house for a long time, or who have a deep emotional connection because of something they did to the house or an experience they had there, are particularly receptive.
“Adding that personal piece can add some warmth and comfort to an emotional transaction,” said Stockwell’s business partner, Dawnn Eldredge.
Realtor Mark Buckholz said a client fell in love with a house being sold by the children of an architect who designed and built it in the 1960s.
Though it was dated, it was on a prized lot a block from Lake Harriet and would have been perfect for someone who might tear it down and rebuild.
His clients, however, were a young couple who had no trouble envisioning a long and happy life there without significant alteration.
Knowing the sellers had a deep emotional attachment to the house, Buckholz coached his clients on how to write a letter that explained how much they appreciated their father’s design. The letter made it clear they had no interest in tearing down the house and that they’d only make minor modifications. The strategy worked.
Though Buckholz’s clients made the lowest of five offers, the sellers picked them after making a minor counteroffer. “They were delighted to have gotten a fair price and to have saved dad’s house from the wrecking ball,” he said.
There’s another advantage of such letters in today’s market. With low appraisals and buyers’ regret running rampant, many deals fall apart. So when a buyer submits a well-written letter, they signal to a seller that they’re committed to getting the deal done.
The same is true when a buyer is submitting the only offer, creating the equivalent of pre-emptive strike against landing in a multiple-offer situation.
Keith Thorndyke, for example, said that after he missed out on a suburban condo that would have fit his needs perfectly, his agent suggested writing a personal letter to the sellers of the next suitable condo. Ultimately, it helped him land the condo before anyone else was able to make an offer.
The owner of the house Aitkens was trying to buy in northeast Minneapolis, Faith Farrell, got letters from two other potential buyers. All offered more than asking price.
And all three buyers told Farrell they liked the murals and some vintage fruit labels that she painted on two kitchen cabinet doors.
Farrell said when she bought the house she had done the same thing: gone across the street to the tiny triangle-shaped park to write the sellers what was essentially a love letter to the house. “I remembered myself years ago — not wanting to wait another second to make an offer — and filling out the offer paperwork in the same park,” she said.
Kathy Borys, the agent who listed Farrell’s house, said such letters are particularly common with houses priced less than $300,000 because there’s a shortage of such listings, and because so many of their sellers have lived in them for many years and had a deep personal connection.
For Farrell, Aitkens’ letter stood out. He “already knew of the magic of this hidden neighborhood,” she said.
“Selling my house brought up the question of ‘do houses have souls,’ and I believe they do,” she said. “Selling my home filled my heart with layers of bittersweet emotions. I believe my house had warmth, comfort and coziness that I wanted the future buyers to connect with, and after reading their letter, I knew they understood.”