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How to Win an Apartment Bidding War By Writing a 'Love Letter'

By Amy Zimmer | July 30, 2014 7:30am
 Writing a heartfelt note to a seller — once considered a nice but optional touch — is often useful in today's competitive real estate market, brokers said.
Writing a heartfelt note to a seller — once considered a nice but optional touch — is often useful in today's competitive real estate market, brokers said.
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MANHATTAN — The seller of a SoHo loft — an antiques collector moving to Italy — received four offers at or above his asking price of $3.995 million.

One of these prospective buyers — a promoter of up-and-coming artists — stood out because of the "love letter" included in his bid, playing up their shared interest in art, recounted the seller's broker, Avery Bie, of Bond New York.

Writing a heartfelt note to a seller, once considered a nice but optional touch, is often essential in today's competitive market, many brokers said. It won't convince a seller to take a wildly lower offer or trump an all-cash deal if you need financing, but if the financials are equal, it can give house hunters an edge.

INTERACTIVE PHOTO: In this photo of a recently-sold apartment at 200 West 86th St., we’ve highlighted how relating to particular elements in a space can help you personalize your note. 

Click here to view larger

Photo Credit: Corcoran

Bie said her client wrote a letter describing his job, his five-year plan and how the loft was "meant for him." He invited the seller to a gallery opening for one of his artists.

"Usually buyer and seller don’t talk with each other face-to-face," Bie said. "Apparently the seller was interested enough to accept his invitation, and you guessed it, the art promoter got the dream loft."

It also helped that the promoter ponied up $4.3 million for the West Broadway pad, Bie noted.

"A 'love letter' doesn't guarantee you'll get the house," said Douglas Elliman's CEO Dottie Herman. "But many times it does count because when someone is selling their home, it's emotional. A lot of sellers want to have someone they like to have it."

Here are experts' tips on how to craft a "love letter."

1. Tell your story.

Talk about who you are, what you do and how the apartment would affect your life, brokers said. 

A buyer Bie worked with from China, planning to go to graduate school at NYU for computer science, wrote a letter describing how hard she worked to get into the program, how she would take care of the apartment and use it for her career inspiration.

"It just so happened that the seller had a son who just moved away in a similar pursuit to become a physicist," Bie recounted.

Two days later, the seller's broker came back and asked the student if she could raise her offer by $5,000 to match another bid. She got the apartment.


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2. Find common ground.

Do some research on the seller — without invading their privacy, brokers advised.

"Look around the apartment," advised Kathy Braddock, of William Raveis New York City. "Is there a yardstick on the wall measuring their kids' heights? I remember how that resonated with one of my buyers, who was pregnant. She wrote about how she hoped to raise her family there too."

Find clues from bookshelves, art or theater programs. Or if there's an amazing kitchen, you can talk about how you're a great cook, Braddock suggested.

3. Compliment the apartment.

Be honest about what you adore, but avoid sounding disingenuous, Alejandra Lora, of Bond, said.

A client of hers recently scored an Upper West Side apartment that already had another offer after praising the seller's recent kitchen and bathroom renovation.

"She said it was exactly how she would have done it and that it was just perfect," Lora said.

The owner told Lora how much she loved that letter and how important it was for her to get a "good feeling" about the buyer "beyond the financials."

4. Talk about the community.

Sellers also want new owners to be good neighbors, Lora said.

Her Upper West Side purchaser (a law student) reinforced that she and her husband (a banker) wanted to be part of the community, mentioning that they had friends and family in the area, and adding that the wife took regular strolls in the area to admire the architectural details. In addition, they touted their existing ties to the community, including the husband's volunteer work as a music teacher for visually-impaired students.

"The letter kind of made you want to become one of their best friends," Lora said. 

5. Keep it positive.

Nobody needs to hear your sob story.

"Do not tell the sellers how many apartments you have lost, for example, or how desperate you are to close on an apartment because you already have sold yours and need a place to live," Lora advised.

"You can say, we've been looking for 'X' amount of time but no apartment was perfect as yours and go into details," suggested Fabienne Lecole, of Corcoran, who has long-advised clients on writing such letters as a way to "go beyond the numbers."

6. Ask for what you want.

Don't be coy, brokers said. Be clear that you can make the deal happen and can be flexible (if possible).

"Always assure the seller of your financial qualification and what a pleasant transaction it would be if he does business with you," Bie suggested. "At the end of the day, it all comes down to if the seller can collect money the easiest and painless way possible."

7. Invite the seller to reach out.

A negotiation should be through the broker, but once an offer is made, there's no rule preventing a buyer and seller from talking, Braddock said.

"It helps little bumps in a closing," she added, "whether you're negotiating over the chandelier or curtains, it's harder to be rude or discount someone if you've had a connection to them."

8. Don't go longer than a page.

The letter shouldn't be one paragraph. It also shouldn't be a diary, said Lora, who recommends staying on topic in "four or five solid paragraphs."

"Do not lose the sellers' attention by overwriting and making your letter too long and boring," she said.

9. Proofread.

Make sure there are no typos. A surefire way to lose the battle is to make an egregious error in spelling or punctuation, showing a hastiness or lack of attention to detail, experts said.

In addition, make sure your letter looks finished. That means including a handwritten signature at the end. Be sure to give the letter as much time and attention as you have given your resume or college application, experts say.