Real Estate Deal Analysis & Advice

“Dear Seller” Letters: The Tool You Need to Win Deals in a Hot Market

Expertise: Personal Development, Real Estate Deal Analysis & Advice, Real Estate Investing Basics, Business Management
42 Articles Written
dear-seller-letter

Most people don’t think to write cover letters when putting in offers on a property. But why wouldn’t you? People want to work with people they like and people that are similar to them. If you just turn in numbers on a sheet of paper, you better be the biggest number.

People are always surprised when I tell them it’s common for sellers to say they want to pick the person who buys their home, not just the highest offer. Why, you might ask? Because people are attached to their homes. They raised their kids there, cried there, laughed there and loved there. They have an emotional attachment that’s sometimes worth more than a little extra money. I’ve won multiple times without the highest offer because of these letters. Let’s look at how to do it right and what I’ve found to work well.

No one cares about you.

Let’s start right there. No one cares about you, so don’t spend your time talking about you. Writing a letter about yourself is the same as going to a cocktail party and talking to someone else about you how great you are. No one likes that. While you have to talk about yourself a little, it should only be in the context of them.

Example: “We are both avid cooks and couldn’t imagine a better kitchen. You have great taste and design style — thank you.”

In the above example, I am talking about myself while congratulating the sellers on the work they did. Kitchen remodeling is expensive, so you know the kitchen is important to them. Who doesn’t want to have someone appreciate their work?

Related: The Savvy Buyer’s Guide to Winning Deals in an Seller’s Market

You want to be as much like them as possible.

Let’s face it: People want to interact with, do business with and be with people who are like them. The sellers will never meet you, so the only chance you have of showing them you’re similar to them is through the letter. You’re trying to create an emotional bond.

For example, let’s say you saw a house with a well-cared-for backyard, ample outdoor seating, and a nice grill, and inside you noticed a few bird books on the bookshelf. How could you use this information?

Example: “We really appreciate what you’ve done with the backyard. It’s the perfect place to bring friends and family or just listen to the birds on a warm, sunny day.”

You are not only congratulating them on their work, which everyone loves, but also bringing up positive emotions they will associate with you, and to top it off, you are showing them how similar you are.

Congratulate them on their home and the work they’ve done.

When people put time and money into their house, you know they love it. Why else would they do it? Have you ever taken care of something and had someone compliment you on it? It feels great. If you notice anything like a garage with a lot of built in storage, a deck for parties, a certain type of decor, or even a fancy kitchen, then that’s what’s important to them. To gain an edge, tell them how much you liked what they’ve done and how it’s also important to you.

Example: “We really love what you’ve done with the kitchen. Opening it up so you can cook and also be a part of everything else really hit home for us. We can see the care and attention you put into making it just right.”

Use emotion-driven words.

If you look at all of the above statements, you’ll see that I use mostly emotion-based words. Liking someone or not comes down to a feeling you get from them. Feelings come from emotion, so you have to use words that elicit emotions. Tell them how the house makes you feel; make it positive and congratulate them in the process. That’s how you stand out.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou

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People don’t focus on what you say; they focus on the feeling they get from what you say. That’s all they will remember after looking over several offers. That’s all they’ll remember when you ask for repairs. You want them to like you.

How do you know what the sellers are like?

When we’re walking through a house, I take photos and notes. I look for:

  • Photographs. Are all of the photos of them with friends, children, family, sports, traveling, their pets etc.? That’s what’s important to them.
  • Are they really into a sports team? I’ve written letters that ended in “Go [insert sports team]!” If they’re really into cycling or kayaking, I mention things the buyers do that are similar.
  • Do they have a garden? Gardeners love the idea of someone keeping their garden going after they leave. Tell them how much you like gardening.
  • Is the garage an art studio or a place to work on cars with friends? These are things people put a lot of work into because of the happiness they get from doing the activities. Saying how great those spaces are can elicit the positive emotions they associate with those tasks and the emotions they associate with you. People appreciate being appreciated.
  • Has the kitchen been remodeled? Remodeling a kitchen is very expensive. Only people who really like kitchens do it.
  • Does the master bedroom have a remodeled bathroom? Again, remodeling is expensive so only people that think bathrooms are important will do it. Congratulate them on the design or colors.

Here is a recent example.

This didn’t win us the deal, but it illustrates the impact a letter can have on a seller.

“We want to thank you for giving us the opportunity to see your beautiful home. We were especially excited about the rainwater catchment system and garden beds. Four years ago, we both spent a summer in Chiapas, Mexico helping indigenous communities build rainwater catchment systems. Ever since then, we’ve dreamed of owning our own home and implementing a sustainable garden using rainwater irrigation. All we need is a place to plant our roots.

While the rainwater catchment system was awesome, it was the kids’ room and backyard that topped it off. We plan on starting a family as soon we find the right home, and we know yours is it.

In order to give you peace of mind we are offering:

  • Home warranty that will cover the home an appliances while it’s in escrow just in case something breaks.
  • $______ earnest money
  • $________ over asking price.
  • We are flexible with a 30-day rent back to make your transition a little easier.
  • We spoke with our lender to make closing as quick as possible, but due to new laws, 45 days is the most realistic timeline.
  • We have an inspector already already lined up so we can get through the inspection period quickly.

If there is anything else we can do please let us know. If you have any questions about our loan or our ability to purchase this property, we encourage you to give our lender a call anytime: _____”

Related: How Sending Cards in the Mail Can Win You More Real Estate Deals

The letter we received back:

“Thank you for your offer to buy my house. Your offer was very generous, but I have accepted a higher offer. 

I really loved your letter accompanying your offer. Thanks for sharing yourselves and your dreams with me. I applaud your plans to capture rainwater and grow a sustainable garden. Awesome!     

As I began to contemplate selling my home of the last 23 years, I realized that I would not simply be selling a real estate property, but also a much loved home where I lived and dreamed, raised children, and found peace and tranquility. I regret not being able to pass my home on to you. I know you would have been faithful stewards.

Best wishes to you,

___________”

If the highest offer would have been closer to ours, we would have likely won. But an extra $30,000 tipped the scales in their favor.

Investors: Do you write letters to sellers when putting in an offer? What do you usually include?

Let me know with a comment!

Brett Lee is a licensed Real Estate Broker in Portland Oregon where he helps people achieve a better future so they can do the things that truly make them happy. Brett is also a buy-and-hold investor, property manager and investment advisor.

    David Roberts from Brownstown, Michigan
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    When i was in realtor training thru the board the instructor brought up letters like these. He said as the listing agent he never shows letters like that to his seller as he wants emotion out of it.
    Brendan M. New to Real Estate from Colorado Springs, CO
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    My initial reaction was that sounds pretty unethical of the listing agent, but then I thought about it some more and it does make a fair bit of sense. I guess it depends on whether you consider it’s the agent’s job to sell the home for as much as possible or to broker the transaction that leaves the seller with the greatest satisfaction. I guess ignorance can sometimes be bliss.
    Liz Petroff
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Great post, Brett! In a sellers’ market like the one we have in San Antonio, this is particularly important with the likelihood you’ll be in a multiple offer situation. I also ask clients to mark down homes that aren’t for sale in a neighborhood that they like. Sometimes a great letter can urge someone to sell their home!
    Christian Bors Real Estate Agent from Camp Hill, Pennsylvania
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    The letter really does work! I used it several times and have had great results. Now our letter is geared more towards banks so we usually don’t compliment the pink bathroom tub or the neo bedroom colors but we explain who we are and how we want to improve the neighborhood. It’s probably one of the least time consuming but beneficial things an investor can do.
    Daniel Rick physician assistant from Idaho Falls, Idaho
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    good post, really interesting idea that I will add to my toolbox, interested in hearing also how a letter towards the bank is a benefit. Do you have an example?
    Mindy Jensen BiggerPockets Community Manager from Longmont, CO
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    I know these letters work. My market is red-hot, and almost every property in the lower price points receives multiple offers. The thing that sets you apart from the other offers is your letter. A friend kept getting outbid, and I suggested she write a letter to accompany the offer. She included a picture of her very pregnant tummy and her dog. She was given the opportunity to match the highest offer because of the picture. In a hot market, you have to take every advantage you can get. I just advised my clients to write up a letter before this weekend when we go see houses, so it’s all ready.
    Wayne Mack Developer from Paterson, NJ
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Great article! I think I am going to start taking this action. It sounds really beneficial Keep up the good work Brett!
    Jeff S. Specialist from Portland, OR
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Just sold a property and never met the selling agent and know nothing about the seller. It was all done online. Very impersonal. Don’t know a thing about the buyer; she could be 20 or 80. Have talked with sellers who have raised their family in a home and want it to go to a good family. Sorry investors. But like you learned Brett, 30k has a lot of influence.
    Jeff S. Specialist from Portland, OR
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Just sold a property and never met the selling agent and know nothing about the seller. It was all done online. Very impersonal. Don’t know a thing about the buyer; she could be 20 or 80. Have talked with sellers who have raised their family in a home and want it to go to a good family. Sorry investors. But like you learned Brett, 30k has a lot of influence.
    Wendy Hoechstetter Interior Designer from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    The woman I sold my house to last year included such a letter with her offer, and I thought it was great. I would have sold the place to her no matter what, because she offered me 50K over listing price, all cash, looking for a 10 day close, and no one else was even close even though most other offers were also over list. If other offers had been significantly closer to hers, the letter and its contents would have likely sealed the deal in her favor.
    Dan Lamas from Spring, Texas
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    I understand the purpose for the letter if you’re buying the house for yourself but if you are just investing and/or flipping the house wouldn’t this backfire on you if the seller realizes what you’ve done and starts telling others about the situation? I am an extreme newbie so forgive me if I am wrong but if there are other properties in the same area that you might be able to invest in, they could catch wind of your letter and say don’t deal with that guy…
    Brett Lee from Portland, Oregon
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Don’t lie to them. No matter what you are doing you can appeal to them somehow. That’s what you have to figure out.
    James Green Wholesaler from Waldorf, Maryland
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Very ingenious!
    James Gorman IV Investor from Gig Harbor, Washington
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Thanks for your post Mr. Lee, . . . . My resent experiences suggest to me that real estate agents are being instructed or trained not to allow directed contact between buyers & sellers. Does anyone have a take on this. I’m a somewhat old fashioned and of the opinion that purchaser & seller contact early on in a RE transaction would in most cases facilitate closing a deal. Especially if the sellers agent sheperds the meeting.
    James Gorman IV Investor from Gig Harbor, Washington
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Ooops, I misspelled “RECENT” & left out a question mark at the end of the first para. Time to slowdown and smell some roses !!
    Dan Frey
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Brett, Genius! Pure genius! I\’m a loan officer and a licensed real estate agent (inactive) and I have not seen anything like this in ten years. Perfect. I\’ll be sure to use it on my next offer and encourage my Realtor partners to do the same for our mutual clients.
    Brett Lee from Portland, Oregon
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    If you think that post was great you should read this one. Definitely my favorite strategy. https://www.biggerpockets.com/renewsblog/2015/11/25/more-repairs-completed/
    Brandon Reinhardt Real Estate Professional from El Dorado Hills, CA
    Replied over 1 year ago
    Our realtor paid http://www.personaoffers.com to write the letter for us and we ended up getting the place even though we were not the highest offer