The One Thing We Did that Sold Our House

Is that title click-bait or what? But seriously….

The One
We officially sold our house near the end of September 2014. We first listed it for sale at the end of July, and the first couple who saw it put in an offer. While there were bumps in the road between then and the actual closing, we did manage to get the very first offer to closing, which is saying a lot!

How did we get that initial offer, and so quickly?

First, I feel it’s necessary to mention the things that anyone should do when preparing to sell their house (the ones you already know, probably) — and – disclaimer – I’m not a master house-seller – this is my first time selling a home! Anyway, here goes:

  • De-clutter When we were looking for a house, we looked at a home that was being rented out. The renters were in the home during our scheduled time to view it (which was beyond awkward), they were cooking something that made me nauseated, and the rooms were so cluttered that I had a hard time looking past the stuff piled everywhere to see the home itself. It was a pretty extreme example of what NOT to do… but, seriously, if you’re trying to sell your home while renting, you need to have some kind of agreement with your tenants on how house showings will be handled!
  • Clean Duh.
  • Remove personal items We removed all family pictures that were not on the wall. I refused to take pictures off the walls and expose filled nail holes on bare walls, though. We also put away most of L’s artwork except one or two pieces, because it was part of our house-selling strategy.
  • Take care of your yard Duh. (Again.)

And the One Thing That We Did that Sold Our Home:  

Write a letter to potential buyers. 

Why do I know this is the One Thing? Because our real estate agent told us, “The people who are making an offer on your home really connected with the letter you wrote and they liked your style.”

Ponder this: When you sell something on Craigslist – a toy, a car, a piece of equipment, anything – what do you do to make it sell? You write a great description, and the more detailed the listing, the more likely it is to sell. (Well, price is a factor, there, too, of course.) Another key – you tell potential buyers why you’re selling.

When we sell a house, though, we tend to rely on a real estate agent to develop the MLS listing, arrange for the photos to be taken, and decide how to market the home. But who knows your house better than you? No one, that’s who!

What do you love about your home? Is it the location? The neighbors? The cute little alcove under the stairs? What things did you discover after you moved in that potential buyers might not notice?

Writing a letter that people can pick up at your house showing will help potential buyers see beyond just that initial visit and really imagine living in your home. If you craft your letter to the right potential buyers, people visiting your house will start to form a relationship with it through your letter! Plus, they can take it home and review it later, which gives your place an edge over others. (But this is beyond just an advertising flyer, people. Bear with me here.)

(By the way, I wish I could take full credit for this idea, but a friend of mine did it to sell her home (and credits it with hooking a buyer!), and I totally copied her!)

When we wrote our letter, we used a conversational tone and basically crafted it like a “Hey, there, thanks for visiting, here’s what we love about our house!” sort of letter.

First, we outlined (without divulging too much information) why we were moving (for our jobs).

Then we discussed some of our favorite elements of the house. We included:

  • Windows / Natural Light (especially nice in the winter time)
  • Our wonderful neighbors (and what they do for a living!)
  • Having the laundry on the main floor
  • The hiking trails around the house and easy access to parks (actually, this isn’t something we love, because we are not outdoor people, but we know other people like this kind of thing!)
  • Location to the interstate, making it a great location for commuters
  • The lovely kitchen upgrades
  • A VERY quiet dishwasher

Then we also included what we updated in our home after we moved in:

  • Fresh paint in the whole house before we moved in
  • We installed new low-flow shower heads
  • We installed closet organizers
  • We stained the deck
  • We replaced the water heater
  • We installed ceiling fans in the bedrooms upstairs
  • We splurged on a stainless steel refrigerator a couple of years ago… (I like to think that it helped sell the house, too!)
  • Upgraded light fixtures in two bathrooms

I also mentioned that I loved that we painted the half bath a beautiful deep purple color, and that it coincidentally ended up matching the tree in the backyard (visible through the bathroom’s window) with leaves that change to purple in the spring.

We wrapped up the end of the letter with something like this: “We have loved living here and hope you will consider loving our house the way we have!”

I mean, wouldn’t you be more interested in purchasing something that someone else values highly?

My Advice for Your Letter:

  • Use a picture of your house. We chose a picture of the exterior and placed it at the top of the letter, along with the home’s address.
  • Tell buyers why you’re selling. We had a great reason – moving because of a job sounds way better than moving because the house is too old! Moving because you have a two bedroom and need four because of an expanding family will also make sense to buyers. They want to know that the house is a good quality home and that you’re not moving because it doesn’t meet standards. In our letter, I made it clear that we loved that house and that we wished we didn’t have to leave it, but job change made it necessary to sell.
  • Don’t mention the negatives! Naturally, I did not mention any of the downsides to our home. Sure, there were things we didn’t like (lots of stairs, carpet that had been damaged by the previous owners’ dogs, no real dining room….), but I wasn’t going to bring attention to them!
  • Do not put your personal information on the letter. This is just my advice, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable putting an email address or phone number out there – if the buyers have questions, they’ll have their agent get in touch with yours!
  • Leave a stack (of at least 5) letters where the buyers will see it when they come in. We used a pretty file folder and wrote “Please take one!” on it. (Having at least 5 means that people won’t feel bad about taking the last one.)

Possible Pitfalls to Consider:

  • The potential buyers may not be like you. For instance, if you play up certain things that the buyers aren’t interested in, your letter will either make no impact or could make a negative impact. If it’s a child-free middle-aged couple and your letter plays up how many kids are in the neighborhood, they might not be excited about hearing children shriek up and down the street. For us, it seemed very likely that our house would only interest people who were in a similar place in life as us. Our house has a number of stairs, eliminating people with limited mobility. It has three bedrooms, an office, and a den, which would appeal to young families, and the location is obviously family-friendly. While we didn’t assume that a child-free couple wouldn’t be interested in our home, we definitely believed we would get more interest from young couples with an interest in starting a family than we would get from a single person or a retired couple.That meant that we could show off our house in a way that would appeal most to them: marketing to a certain type of buyer (while not totally excluding other types). I left a few pieces of L’s artwork on the walls for that reason.
  • You play up a feature that you love but someone else may hate. The friend who gave me this idea used a letter to help her sell her home. In the original draft of the letter, she mentioned enjoying the bats swooping around in the evenings (!). Her real estate agent advised her to change “bats swooping” to “squirrels scampering,” because – surprise! – some people don’t think bats are cute.

How to Avoid Potential Problems:

  • Honestly consider the things you like about your home. Your honesty will come through the letter. Use conversational language (but with proper grammar!) and be careful of your tone throughout the letter. We used a little bit of humor when I described our refrigerator: “We gave in and splurged on a beautiful stainless steel refrigerator.” I didn’t just say, “We bought a beautiful stainless steel refrigerator.” Honestly, the type of people looking at our home probably weren’t going to be the type of people who buy the highest end stuff on a regular basis. I really considered our potential audience and wanted to connect with them using language.
  • Do NOT say, “in spite of not having much natural light, we have found that good light fixtures…” As I mentioned above, don’t use any negatives – don’t draw their attention to the fact that your dining area is incredibly tiny and inconvenient. They can see that for themselves! You’re aiming to draw their attention to the good things they may NOT notice on their first walk-through of your home. Think of it as a cover letter for your house. On your resume for your dream job, you don’t say, “While I got fired from my previous job, I used my time off to develop a new skill I can use in this position!”

Selling a home has always seemed very impersonal to me – you do all of the negotiating through agents and don’t have the opportunity to really talk to the other interested party. I always thought that was strange, considering that rarely does a person spend more money on a purchase than on a home! Why not add a personal touch? I hope you try this technique – let me know if you do!

What do you think? Are there other problems that could arise with a letter like this? Have you used a letter to market your home? Any other home-selling tips/tricks out there that worked for you?

Image edited from http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

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7 thoughts on “The One Thing We Did that Sold Our House

  1. This is a really smart idea! Writing copy for your own house, I would have never thought to do that. You had me at the purple bathroom with the purple tree, by the way. I think that would appeal to anyone whose favorite color is purple. =) You’re so right in saying that only you know your home well enough to sell it like this. It’s easy to get turned off by all the real estate jargon used in listings, that letters from the homeowners could be refreshing.

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  2. I love this idea as well. I know that if I had an interest in the house, this would definitely influence me. It almost gives you a sense that there’s nothing wrong with the house, even though you haven’t said that. Great strategy and I’m glad it worked! What happened with the closing when it got delayed by about 5 days, BTW?

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    • The sellers were eligible for getting a fee waived by their mortgage lender (the VA), and they hadn’t submitted the correct paperwork. The VA said that it would take two weeks to get the paperwork processed. The buyers tried to say they didn’t want to have the fee waived if it was going to hold up the closing by that long (which we appreciated), but then the VA apparently made some kind of exception and they got the fee waived and we were postponed for less time. It was still totally stressful, as we were very concerned we would end up having to pay another mortgage payment! Thankfully all of that stuff went through, though. Now we’re just waiting on the payout from our escrow…. which could take up to two more weeks to get to us. Patience does not appear to be one of my virtues. 🙂

      Thanks for the comment, Debt Debs!

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