January 14, 2013

Home Buying: Comps, Mortgage Pre-qual, and Letter Writing

Can there be any question that The Bubble is Back? Buyers are returning to that delightful 2005 method: the Begging Letter. It must be true, because it’s in a newspaper.

Can I Buy Your House, Pretty Please?

By JOANN S. LUBLIN, The Wall Street Journal, January 10, 2013

Rob and Julia Israch won a fierce bidding war for a three-bedroom townhouse in Mountain View, Calif., late last year even though their $750,000 offer—while $92,000 above the asking price—was topped by 11 rivals and was several thousand dollars below the highest bid.

A key reason: The seller, software engineer Lev Stesin, was moved by a letter in which the Israchs said they worked in the technology industry and explained how the home’s spacious layout would be perfect given the imminent arrival of their first child. Among other things, the townhouse has three bathrooms, a wood-burning fireplace and a roomy backyard.

The only problem with this real estate story is the author’s contention that it isn’t just happening where it’s Special, namely Mountain View. Pitch letters are also going to sellers in Seattle, San Diego, suburban Chicago, and Washington D.C. Hah, and you thought we were going to say Belmont or something. No, we really meant places where it isn’t Special at all (e.g. where you can make an offer and be the only one! Redfin’s CEO said 95% of the offers their agents made in Silicon Valley had competing offers.)

The WSJ piece included two examples of House Begging Letters that worked. Both were from Silicon Valley buyers. Here’s one.

Note the use of photos. Don’t beg without them. Also don’t house beg with form letters. You’re going to have to write an individual letter for each seller, calling attention to their home’s marvelous features. Comments such as “Of all the 1954 era crapboxes we looked at today, yours had the fewest pet odors and the least offensive paint scheme” will probably not be effective. Some tips:

  • Remind the seller how attractive your offer is. You could write this note on the back of a hundred dollar bill to show how many more you have waiting.
  • Mention all the things you have in common with the seller, so they identify with you and not any of those other Less Special buyers. If you can’t find the sellers on social media, a good private detective can ferret that info out. Or spend some of those C-notes on the gabbiest neighbors.
  • Gush about their house and neighborhood without overdoing it. Otherwise they’ll figure you’re using irony. After all, it is one of several hundred 1954 era crapboxes in the tract. But — close to Google! (Don’t mention this if they tried and failed to get jobs there.)
  • Describe your difficult house hunt without sounding whiny. If you can fake sincerity here, you’ll have it made:

A few years ago, the owners of an older Los Altos home got more than 21 offers and picked the one from a woman who also submitted a love letter from her dog, said Kathy Bridgman, an Alain Pinel Realtors agent who represented the sellers. “She won’t touch a thing,” promised the letter, signed with a paw print. “I will be able to play in the yard.”

After closing, the buyer immediately tore down the home and built a bigger one.

Note: In case you’re noticing that we’ve repeatedly reformatted this piece, you’re correct. Our blogging tools aren’t as compatible with each other as we wish they were.  In this particular case, one tool supports photo captions but won’t strip styles out properly, the other is the reverse.  Don’t even get us started on what WordPress is doing to both of them.

Comments (14) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 5:07 am

14 Responses to “Home Buying: Comps, Mortgage Pre-qual, and Letter Writing”

  1. best letter writing software Says:

    you describe the tips in very impressive way. thanks

    Why thank you! Keep reading the blog for tips on how to post more natural-sounding spam that we won’t immediately identify, strip the link out, then point and laugh. –ed.

  2. sdj Says:

    This is why I hate stupid people with more money than brains and realtard scum!

  3. PK Says:

    My wife has received similar things on the rental side – photo resumes for apartments in Palo Alto for the win!

  4. SEA Says:

    If my mom lived in the area, I might consider some screening process, but if I really wanted to screen the people who live in the property, I’d rent it out.

  5. nomadic Says:

    Ahh, love these reminders of the ridiculous. We got one letter with the eleven offers when we sold our Sunnyvale shack in ’05. I believe it was also the only offer below asking price. Guess what? They didn’t get it.

    Why would anyone care what the new owners did to the house? It’s not a shrine.

  6. Petsmart groomer Says:

    Indeed, letters help a lot:

    Scott Pursell, a veteran builder who was selling the home […] even rejected an all-cash offer $25,000 below the Duryees’ $550,000 bid for the $549,900 dwelling.

    Gary Barnett, who was selling the house on behalf of his late mother, said the letter “was very nicely done.” But with a $1.13 million bid, he said, “they also had the best offer.”

  7. Petsmart groomer Says:

    If I were a seller, I’d want letters from potential buyers explaining why they only overbid by $XXX.

  8. mabeldu Says:

    #5 i’m with you.

    i had the same happen when i sold my previous nest. bid was under listing price and they wrote a nice letter of how the loved the… blah blah blah… who cares! i was selling it to move up and wanted the best price.

    it’s a business deal; i didn’t care if someone bought it then razed it. you’re not giving away a family member for adoption. birds change nests without concern for who takes over next season. and there are more nests waiting if this one doesn’t work out.

    ah, the good ol’ days when you could point & laugh at buyers’ letters. everything old is new again.

  9. Divasm Says:

    This is why I enjoyed buying our REO house – the bank could have cared less about our super-cute family and my being pregnant at the time, so I didn’t have to have a debate with myself over how low I wanted to pander to buy the place. We just let the almighty dollar do the talking.

  10. nomadic Says:

    I actually know a couple who claim it was their letter (complete with “I’m pregnant and my mom lives down the street” storyline) that got them their house. Being a cynic, I assume they put in the highest offer – they had been outbid a few times before that (on other houses).

  11. AstroWallaby Says:

    I wonder if the reverse tack, writing a letter filled with promises to desecrate the property and rain terror upon the surrounding neighborhood for no reason beyond your own petty and twisted desires for self-satisfaction, would work in certain edge cases.

  12. Facebook Investor Says:

    “My cousin is a professional hitman” will work better than anything else.

  13. More Bubblicious Signs of Bubbling Bubblicity [Burbed.com] Says:

    […] now have to write beg letters to get noticed when there’s 40 offers on the table. And who can forget the lottery line for just […]

  14. Overbidding in Mountain View. Real Overbidding [Burbed.com] Says:

    […] you know those stupid beg letters we’ve been laughing at? They work.  So if you want to buy someone’s house full of family […]


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