Bonnie Raitt, Love Letters, and Real Estate

Sittin’ in front of your house, light rain and early dawn, workin’ on a love letter. Got my radio on.
– Love Letter, Bonnie Raitt, Nick of Time.

I don’t know about you, but I love Bonnie Raitt. She’s a rockin’ inspiration. From her Nick of Time album, “Love Letter” is about writing a love letter, presumably to a lover. But, in our case, let’s discuss writing a love letter to the seller of that home you want. In San Francisco real estate, multiple offers and competition abound. Sometimes, making your offer just a bit personal, can be the difference that makes the difference.

The Home Buyer Letter of Introduction

The Home Buyer Letter of Introduction has long been in my bag of tricks. We almost always ask our home buyer clients to personalize their offers by writing a letter of introduction to the seller. This letter serves to have the buyer introduce themselves, detail what they love about the listing and neighborhood, and make a case for their offer to be selected.

Why? Because although residential real estate is surely about money & property, it is also about our homes – where we live – and what is more personal than that? We’ve seen situations in which our clients’ offer was accepted over other, higher-priced offers. The listing agent will tell us that the seller connected emotionally with our buyers. They wanted our clients to be the new owners of their home and went out of their way to make that happen.

The New York Times recently wrote about the home buyer love letter becoming a phenomenon of NYC real estate. (Thanks to client & friend, Jessica, for passing the article along!) I am not surprised by this. They usually pick up our – San Francisco Real Estate Agents’ – best practices sooner or later! 😉

Read it here: NYT – Securing an Apartment With Help From a Love Letter. The real estate love letter even had a cameo on a recent The Good Wife episode. (Great show, btw.)

When to Include a Personal Note with Your Offer

A general rule of thumb is that a letter should be included when the seller has a personal connection to the home. The most obvious example is when the home is owner-occupied or staged but you know the sellers are around and just moved out for the sale.

Don’t overlook other times when there is no owner-occupant, but there are certainly emotions involved. For example, the listing could be a trust sale where the adult children are selling their parents’ home…and the home in which they grew up. It pays to have your agent do a little respectful digging to figure out the history of the listing and the seller.

When Not To

If there’s no obvious “human element” to the sale, for example if the listing is a REO – Bank Foreclosure – or large new construction condo project, it’s probably going to be a waste of energy to submit a personal letter. That said, if it’s short & sweet, it shouldn’t hurt. Who knows, you may grab the attention of the listing agent who has sway with the attorney, bank representative, or developer.

What to Include

Here are my tips to writing an effective real estate offer letter.

  1. Keep it short – one page max. Who was it who said something to the effect of “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter so I wrote you a long one instead.”? Editing is tough, believe me I know, but do your best to keep it under a page.
  2. Photos are nice but not really necessary. Personally, I think the photos of you, your kids, your dog, etc are a bit much. Yes, we want to personalize the offer, but it’s still business. Be careful to keep the cheese and sap to a minimum.
  3. Keep it clean. Or rather, keep it P.C. As much as we care not to admit it, ignorance and bigotry still exist, even in San Francisco. Introduce yourselves, be honest but keep it simple. There’s no need to go into elaborate detail about your personal pursuits, politics, passion projects and so forth. Share who you are, where you work, why you’re excited to buy this home, what you love about the neighborhood and most importantly, what you love about the property. See #4. It’s a love letter to the seller more than a resume of your life.
  4. Make it about them! They say one of the best ways to get someone to like you in a conversation is to get the other person to talk about themselves. The same holds for the buyer’s love letter. Write about how much you love the property, the neighborhood, the architecture, the remodel choices, the decor, etc. Make the seller feel like their home is incredibly special and that you would be honored to care for it as well as they have.

In the cutthroat world of San Francisco real estate, it’s important to stand out if you want to win the home of your dreams. Writing a personal letter to the seller is one way to do so.



New Buyer Letter Guidelines From the NAR

As of October 2020, the National Association of REALTORS® issued new recommendations regarding buyer letters.

Because they reveal personal information about the writers, real estate love letters are a potential liability for discrimination.

Protected classes in California include: race, color, ancestry, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, gender expression, marital status, familial status, source of income, disability, medical condition, citizenship, primary language, immigration status, military/veteran status, age, criminal history, and any arbitrary determination.

To avoid implicit bias, it is recommended not to write or accept buyer letters included with an offer.

That said, these letters remain commonplace in San Francisco. It is up to the buyer whether to include a letter in their offer, and it is up to the seller whether to accept such letters with incoming offers — not your agent.

But for buyers, the best way to win a home remains to offer the most compelling price and cleanest terms. We’ll work with you to ensure that your offer wins but is not over-the-top.

For sellers, the best way to keep emotions — and legal liability — out of the equation is to consider offers solely on their price and terms.

Still have questions? Reach out to us any time.

If you’re ready to buy a home in San Francisco, find helpful articles and fill out our Buyer Worksheet here.

If you’re thinking of selling your home in San Francisco, tell us more about your situation by filling out our Seller Worksheet.

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