November 11th 2014
Bidding wars may be on the wane, but the marketplace is still fairly competitive. (Blame that seemingly omnipresent low inventory.) While money still talks, letters—the old-fashioned kind—have the power to sway sellers, too. Specifically, buyers are writing “love letters” describing why they’re smitten with a place and why they’re the perfect fit for it, with the goal of persuading a seller to choose their offer over the others.
Indeed, sellers have been known to accept lower offers because they identify with one bidder over another, and will routinely go with the buyer who seems better equipped to get a deal done, even if it means accepting less money, brokers tell us. If you’re competing against another offer for the same dollar figure, a detail in the letter could persuade the seller to pick you.
Of course, a love letter never trumps shaky finances; if it seems like you aren’t able to get a mortgage, pass the co-op board, or otherwise close the deal, no amount of evocative prose will turn you into the ideal buyer. Some brokers doubt love letters help at all: “I really feel the seller is looking for a certain price and they want certain terms and they want confidence that the buyer they choose is going to follow through,” says Kinnaird Fox, an agent at Fenwick Keats who rarely uses this tactic.
But if you want to mount a full-court press to woo your seller? We assembled letters from buyers who’ve successfully beaten out the competition (though whether or not the letter clinched the deal is uncertain), and asked brokers about their best advice for writing one. Below, what your letter should look like. And above, samples from actual deals. (Thanks to Jay Glazer, a broker at Urban Compass; Philip Lang, co-founder of Suitey; and Camille Duvall-Hero, a broker at Warburg Realty for the letters. )
WHAT TO INCLUDE
Introduce yourself—with relevant details
The love letter is the one place where you get to show the seller you’re a real person, not just a collection of tax returns and mortgage pre-approval letters, which can make the difference in the sale of something as emotionally significant as a home. “Instinct and gut feelings are an integral part of how we operate as people,” says Glazer, and that extends to the process of selling an apartment.
But what you share should relate specifically to the deal at hand. For example, if you’re a young buyer purchasing a starter apartment, you could highlight your educational credentials, like finishing top-of-class at Harvard—hinting at a bright future, even if you don’t pull in six figures right now, says Glazer. That said, if you’re a middle-aged family man picking up a three-bedroom, your college marks probably won’t come into play. Generally speaking, “no one wants to hear 10 years later that you were top of your class in Harvard,” says Deanna Kory, a broker at the Corcoran Group. On the other hand, “if you see Harvard plaques all over the wall and you’re a Harvard graduate, definitely bring it up.”
Describe why the place is right for you
Next, you want to outline why the apartment resonates with you more than the other places you’ve seen. “It’s really all about getting on the emotional level,” Glazer says. The fact that an apartment is in a nice location and is priced well doesn’t say why you’re connected to the home, he notes. Highlight specifics that jumped out at you, like a great renovation, perfect view, or the history of the building, says Duvall-Hero, suggesting something like, “We always dreamed of living in an Emory Roth building.” If the seller has personalized the space, call attention to how you’ve fallen in love with what they’ve done—the armoire in the corner, the paint color in the dining room, and so on. Likewise, if you know someone in the building or have friends nearby, that’s worth a mention.
It should go without saying that sincerity is a must. “Whatever you’re saying, you should really believe it,” Fox says. “You shouldn’t be presenting false information. It should be an honest letter.”
Also, adapt your message to fit the seller as much as possible. “The more you understand who the seller is, the more you can tailor the letter,” Kory says. The home itself can provide clues. Spot a wall of cookbooks? Mention your attempts at being an amateur chef.
Communicate your commitment
As important as it is to convey your love of the apartment, it’s equally critical to demonstrate the seriousness of your offer. You’re not merely throwing out a number to see if it sticks: you have the ability and the desire to close the deal.
Aside from saying this explicitly, it’s a good bet to allude to how long you’ve been apartment hunting. You want to give the impression that you’re knowledgeable about the market, and that you’re not submitting an offer just because this is the first place you saw. (If it is the first place, you could highlight your familiarity with the neighborhood or other details to convince the seller you’re for real.)
You’ll also want to stress your eagerness to work quickly, as well as any facts that highlight your ability to do so. You could mention, for example, that your attorney specializes in real estate and has worked with your broker dozens of times before, or that you have the perfect board package. In other words, you’ll do whatever it takes to pass the co-op board (if necessary) and finalize the sale.
WHAT TO LEAVE OUT
Presumptive language: Confidence is useful, arrogance not so much. If you’re worried about crossing the line, ask a friend to read over the letter and make sure you’re not bragging. Also, steer clear of aggressive language like, “when you accept my offer,” recommends Glazer. It’s a simple matter of phrasing, he adds: “As I hope you can see, I believe I’m a great candidate,” is better than “As you can see, I’m a great candidate.”
Extreme gushing: You don’t want to come on so strong that you lose all negotiating power or, conversely, come across as insincere. Separately, not every situation calls for an outpouring of apartment-related emotion. Bidding on a Midtown condo owned by an overseas investor? Raving about the coffee table in the living room probably won’t help your case— and in fact, a letter may be a bad use of your time. “Not everyone expresses themselves well in writing,” Fox says. “It may end up backfiring or they may come on too strong and turn the seller off.”
Uncertainty: Every buyer has doubts about committing to an apartment, but a love letter is not the place to air them, Kory says. Likewise, any questions you have about the building or the apartment should be answered before you write the letter, she says. You don’t want to give the seller any reason to think the deal won’t go through.
HOW TO FORMAT IT
While there’s no hard and fast rule for how to send one of these, brokers tell us that they’re typically typed up and emailed as a PDF. (If you do a handwritten, hard copy note, make sure it’s on quality stationery, notes Duvall-Hero.) You may want to add your address to the top corner if it will help your case— if you already live in the same neighborhood, for example.
Keep the text to about a page—a paragraph or two on each of the areas above. “You don’t want someone to have to read a three-page essay to understand who you are,” Glazer says. And have a friend who’s a solid writer read over it to make sure you’re putting your best foot forward, recommends Kory, and to spot any typos or grammatical mistakes. While some brokers say these kinds of errors are definite no-nos, a heartfelt letter can win the day, even if some little errors sneak through (as the first example above shows).