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How a love letter can seal the real estate deal

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[Yahoo! Homes editor's note: This is a guest post by Jacqueline Shannon of Zillow.]

The residential real estate market is finally rebounding. The overall economy is improving. New families are being created at a brisk pace. But the number of homes currently on the market has dramatically declined over the past year, especially in the usual highly desirable areas. In San Francisco, inventory is down 47 percent; Silicon Valley, 45 percent; San Diego, 30 percent; Chicago, 26; and Washington, D.C., 19.

Love letters

What’s all that spell? In those and other hot markets, we’re back to the days of camping out all night to get a shot at a house in a new development. Here come all-cash offers and multiple bids well over listing price. Add in stirring emotional letters to sellers from buyers who want to stand out from all the other bidders. Here’s one from Gina in San Diego:

“As we walked through your home, both my husband and I were in love and confident that our two little girls would love it, too,” reads part of Gina’s letter to a homeowner whose house was for sale. “We can already imagine which rooms the girls will want to make their own and found ourselves smiling as we pictured them picking flowers in the garden you have so lovingly tended and (as teenagers) getting ready for school dances in front the little vanity in the hall bath.”

It worked. This letter filled with sentiments sealed the deal for Gina.

Meanwhile, Bonnie, a teacher and homeowner in North Potomac, Maryland, an upper-middle-class suburb of Washington, D.C., says she finds letters from hopeful buyers in her mailbox even though her house is not for sale.

And the Wall Street Journal reports that when Judy Blankenburg and her sister went to sell their childhood home in Silicon Valley’s Los Altos, they were “sold” on a buyer who raved in a letter about the 1938-built home’s charm, with its “majestic trees,” “lush foliage,” and a high ceiling in the living room made of knotty pine.

“My sister and I had a huge emotional attachment to that house,” Judy told the Journal. “We didn’t want it torn down.”

Pour your heart out

Your goal with a love letter is to establish a personal connection with the seller and his or her property, according to Catherine Nicholas of CADO Real Estate Group in San Diego, who worked as buyer’s agent for Gina.

At an open house, note the features you particularly love, even if they won’t transfer in a sale. The seller collects 33 rpm record albums just like you do? Mention that in your letter as well as how much you’d enjoy playing them in the 1950s-designed and -decorated rumpus room the seller created in the basement.

Nicholas, who has decades of experience in residential real estate transactions, is unusual in that she recommends that her buyers always write a letter no matter what market conditions are. She wrote a letter of her own when she and her husband, Jim Cento, bought their primary residence in Solana Beach, Calif., in 2000.

Even in a slow real estate market, she says, it helps to have established a good relationship with the sellers and their representatives. “Escrow can be really difficult,” she says. “A friendly air between the buyer’s team and the seller’s can help when you negotiate about things like getting the seller to pay for more repairs or to simply move the seller to not wait for other offers to come in.”

It’s OK to make it personal

Nicholas and other real estate pros say some buyers have increased their chances of getting an offer accepted by enclosing a family photo with the love letter. This is yet another method establishing a personal connection with the seller. They have a baby who is just starting to walk, and guess what? So do you. They have two dogs – so do you.

Getting a little personal about your financial situation can also be helpful, especially if it convinces the seller that you’re in a position to get the deal done quickly. An example is mentioning what you do for a living if you’re in a stable profession, such as nursing. Nicholas has a client who enclosed a copy of his most recent pension statement to show that he had the funds readily available to close the sale.

Don’t get too flowery with your adjectives. People toss around words like “stunning” when the object being described rarely fits the dictionary definition of that, and being too flattering can mark you as a “phony” or as pulling a “snow job.”

Remember that the spell/grammar check is your friend, but there’s no reason to ask your real estate agent to write or edit your letter or to hire a professional writer, according to Nicholas.

“I will give my buyers some bullet points of the types of things I think should be addressed and remind them of high points about the property they’ve expressed to me,” Nicholas says. But beyond that, the buyers are on their own to compose the letter. “Above all, the reason for that is that I want the letter to sound genuine,” she says. “In other words, your appeal to the seller should be… well, sincerely yours.

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