Recent reports suggest that the real estate market might be picking up. That said, sellers from coast to coast are still doing everything within their power to differentiate their home from the scads of other competitive listings.
As someone who has been inside probably thousands of homes with buyers over the years, I’ve always thought there was one super-simple, vastly underrated marketing technique for homes that are having a hard time standing out from the rest of the market: the seller love letter.
A seller love letter is a note, personally written or typed up by the home’s seller. Among other things, it expresses the love the seller’s family has had for the home, and explains the facts and events underlying that sentiment.
I’ve seen these be as short as a single page, and as long as a binder containing a 10-page letter and a collection of supporting pictures and other documents.
If the power of staging lies in depersonalizing the property so buyers can picture their own family living out their own lives in the home, the power of a seller love letter is that it leaves buyers with a warm feeling that the home has a positive energy and history, which is especially desirable on today’s distressed property-riddled market.
Here are six things smart sellers should consider including in their love letters about their homes to their buyers:
1. Fond family memories. Now, there’s no reason to get all "TMI" (too much information) about it, but the fact is that buyers do love to hear sweet, fond family memories about a property. I’ve watched with my own two eyes as buyers who liked a 100-year-old home fell desperately in love with it as they read about the seller’s parents’ building the home, and then raising a flourishing family there.
Even much newer homes can have their own endearing stories, whether they be about a hard-charging professional bachelor who is moving out of a loft to start a family; about retirees who raised their kids there and are now moving to downsize and be near their grandkids; or about a smart, single woman who was the first person in her family to own a home.
The goal here is to create warm fuzzies while you satisfy the buyer’s craving to know why on earth anyone would want to move from such a lovely place. And if you can tell a happy story, you can kill another bird with a single stone – distinguishing your place from all the tragic stories and sadness surrounding the short sales and foreclosures with which your home is competing.
2. Favorite neighborhood vendors and local businesses. One reason people dread moving so much is that it forces them to find new vendors for everything, especially for the practicalities and minutiae that can derail our schedules and lives if they don’t run well. If you have neighborhood businesses you love, making a list of them and including them with your love letter is very much appreciated by buyers.
Take care to include things like: dry cleaners, house cleaners, landscapers, carpet cleaners, produce markets and butchers, and especially restaurants that have great take-out and delivery services.
You get extra points if you know the proprietor and authorize the buyer to drop your name, or you include menus with your list of restaurants that deliver to the property address.
3. Lifestyle amenities that map to local buyer wish lists. Give some thought to the sorts of things people looking to buy a home like yours might be looking for, from a lifestyle perspective, and include notes about any of those amenities in the neighborhood that you and your family or housemates have especially enjoyed. Things like dog parks, playgrounds, running trails, yoga studios, libraries and bookstores, museums and outdoor recreational opportunities make great fodder for this list.
4. History of upgrades. Of course, your state-required disclosure forms will include a pithy section for relating the repairs and upgrades you’ve done in the time you owned the property, but you can take that to a new level in your seller love letter with a free-form description of the work, color commentary (if it makes sense) around why and how you had it done, and a little appendix that includes any relevant plans, permits warranties, receipts, service contracts and the like.
(Obviously, you don’t want to include the originals of these items if this love letter document will be left out in the property during showings.)
If there are any issues or repairs that are likely to come up in the buyer’s inspection reports that you want to explain in more detail, the love letter can give you your chance to do just that.
5. Property details and tricks. If you have a detailed landscape plan that identifies all the plants and trees in your yards, tricks for how to work the heating and cooling timer or the tricky downstairs doors, details on when the neighborhood trash pickup happens, or info about your alarm, termite or other service contracts, prospective buyers will feel well taken care of if you compile and include all this information with your love letter and let them see it before they even make an offer.
6. Neighbors. If you have particularly close and friendly relationships with any specific neighbors, or there are block parties, online or email Listservs, homeowners association (HOA) or neighborhood watch meetings or other favorites, ones with kids, block party, watch meetings, other things being planned/organized, let the buyers know.
You see, a good seller love letter is equal parts lovey-dovey and logistical, but the care that goes into preparing it and the love that is evident in its content can be a significant selling point to buyers weary of dealing with bank sellers or stressful short-sale situations.
Whatever you do, if you decide to write a seller love letter for your home, review your plans and thoughts about what to include with your local agent first. You want to make sure not to run afoul of any equal opportunity housing laws or disclosure laws.
As well, waxing rhapsodic about all the weekends you invested in the terrible mural on the wall might be more concerning than compelling to buyers who think they could live in your home easily — assuming they paint over the mural on day one as the new owners.
Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Tara is also the Consumer Ambassador and Educator for real estate listings search site Trulia.com. Ask her a real estate question online or visit her website, www.rethinkrealestate.com.
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