WRITTEN BY BOB HUNT
In many areas of the country, housing inventory is low and competition among buyers is intense. When that happens, many buyer’s agents will encourage their clients to submit a cover letter – frequently referred to as a “love letter” — along with their offer to purchase. Sometimes such letters are submitted — in any kind of market — in order to take the “sting” out of a below-list-price offer. In the tight inventory market, their purpose generally is to induce the seller to find some reason to favor the offer of the letter-writer rather than that of some other buyer.
While such letters are not (yet) standard practice, they are certainly not uncommon. A recent Google inquiry for “letters from buyers to sellers” turned up more than 1.5 million hits in a matter of seconds. In 2015, a Redfin report revealed that 43% of successful offers had included a buyer-to-seller letter.
An internet search shows not only that such letters are popular, but also that there is no shortage of people and organizations who will show you how to write one. Templates for these letters abound. They range from a standard letter format to slick marketing pieces complete with graphics and places for pictures.
Advice as to the content and emphasis of buyer letters varies. Some focus on the characteristics of the property. They suggest that the buyer focus on aspects of the property that it is assumed the seller enjoyed as well. “I know that our collies will love romping in that backyard meadow just as your Labradors do.” Others will call attention to aspects of the property to which it is assumed — possibly known — that the seller had an emotional attachment. “We will give that rose garden the same loving attention that you did.”
Others advocate that the buyer’s letter should seek to highlight some personal similarities between the buyers and sellers. This is based on the premise that people like to interact and do business with people like themselves. So, if “our little Susie loves the Girl Scouts just as your daughter does” or “if we are both dyed-in -the -wool Raider fans’, mention it. Call attention to your similarities and differentiate yourselves from your competition.
Of course, there can be downsides to buyer love letters as well. In 2016, attorney Jon Goodman caused a bit of a stir when he presented on the topic at the annual meeting of the National Association of REALTORS®. Goodman developed a scenario in which a buyer’s offer was rejected. The offer had been accompanied by a letter that contained a photograph of his family. The buyer was, as Andrea Brambila, writing in Inman News put it, “a visible member of a historically oppressed minority.” Subsequently, the buyer who was rejected learned that the house had sold for a considerably lower price than his offer. Quoting Goldman, Brambila wrote, ” ‘If we had had his life experiences, we might have perceived what he perceived’ — that his offer was rejected because he was a member of this minority, in violation of the Fair Housing Act…”
Not in all, but certainly in some, buyer-to-seller letters there may lurk the potential for a Fair Housing Violation. This has led some attorneys to advise that sellers and their agents make it known that such letters will not be accepted. That is extreme caution. Others have simply suggested that, if they think there is a potential problem, sellers and their agents should be careful to document the business reasons for taking another offer.
A more likely reason for exercising caution with buyer letters is discussed in a 2015 Realtor® Magazine article, “Don’t Write Me a Love Song”, written by Christine Smith. Smith points out that buyers who reveal their emotional connections to the property are likely weakening their future negotiating positions. Their offer may be accepted, but there is almost always another negotiation or two down the road — after the property inspections. If a seller believes the buyers have truly fallen in love with the property, he or she is less likely to give in when those future negotiations arise.