Saturday, May 31, 2008

NYT: Letter from Buyer to Seller, and Response

Friday's New York Times featured a sample letter from a potential buyer to a seller of a home they wanted to buy. And the response back from seller to buyer. The title should link to the entire article, but here are the highlights:

Dear Seller:
I’m writing to let you know that I would like to make a bid on your property. I love the area and am committed to buying a house nearby. And your home fits my needs.
But given that my offer is well below your asking price, I also feel I owe you an explanation.
First, consider the big picture. Nationwide, home prices in the first quarter of 2008 fell 14.1 percent compared with the same period a year earlier, according to the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index.
That’s the biggest decline in the 20-year history of the data. And just in case you’re wondering, during the housing downturn of the early 1990s, the decline was never worse than 2.8 percent.
Not only that, earlier this month, the National Association of Realtors pointed to the huge number of existing homes on the market. As of the end of April, the total number was 4.55 million. At the rate people are buying right now, that represents an 11.2-month supply.
So buyers have options right now. A lot of them. I’m no different. Your home is great, but it isn’t unique. Few homes are. I know this may be hard to hear, since you’ve spent years creating memories here. But you may be waiting a long time if you hope to find a buyer with the same emotional connection that you have.
My mindset is hardly unique. We’ve all been reading the headlines. The accompanying articles appear prominently in major newspapers and sit on the Web pages where people check their e-mail every day. Everyone sees them, and the psychological impact is real.
Has your real estate agent laid any of this out for you? Maybe so, and you didn’t want to believe it. But it’s also possible that your agent, afraid of offending you and losing the listing, simply doesn’t want to initiate that sort of discussion. It may be worth sitting down for a candid reassessment.
It will be tempting to view my low bid as an insult. Please don’t make that mistake. Your home is genuinely appealing, and I wouldn’t have written this note unless I was serious about buying it. Getting a firm offer in this market is an accomplishment. So congratulations!
Oh, and one more thing. You presumably need someplace to move. My guess is that you’ll find these same points compelling when it’s your turn to buy. You just might succeed in buying for a better price, too.
I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Yours Truly,
The Realist

Dear Bidder:
Thanks so much for your note. I’m truly glad that you like our home as much as we do. You’re right that my family and I have many great memories of this place, and we hope someday you will, too.
And I just want you to know that I’m not insulted in any way by your offer. The fact is, none of us are very good at buying and selling homes. We don’t do it often, and as much as we know we’re not supposed to let emotions get in the way, it’s hard not to. After all, few people buy or sell anything else as expensive as a home in their lifetimes.
That said, your offer disappointed me. You seem to believe that I’m not aware of how bad things are out there or that I’m in denial. But I do read the headlines, and I priced the house accordingly. I knew I might have to wait awhile to sell it.
I should point out that your data draws on what has already happened in the housing market. Instead, I’d ask you to consider what’s about to happen.
One big reason for the falling prices is that it’s harder to get mortgages. Lenders went from giving money to anyone with a pulse to demanding higher credit scores and larger down payments. All sorts of buyers simply couldn’t make the numbers work anymore.
That may now change. Starting June 1, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which buy mortgages from lenders and help make it possible for them to lend more money, are loosening restrictions on the sorts of loans they’ll buy in many markets. That is supposed to make it easier for people to buy a home with a down payment of 5 percent, or even less. Many more qualified buyers should mean more bids, and I’m willing to wait to see if it turns out that way.
I know you talked about having choices, but presumably we wouldn’t be engaging in this correspondence unless you liked my home best. Given that, I’d ask you to think about something: How often do you find a place that you can actually imagine living in? Sure, there are a lot of other properties out there. But an increasing number are in foreclosure and probably have problems lurking within the walls. So don’t let fear of a falling market keep you out of a home that you truly want.
It’s probably obvious by now that I’m not going to counter with a particular number. This doesn’t mean that I do not want to negotiate. I’d just like you to consider what I’ve said and see if you find it convincing. In the meantime, other shoppers who are interested in my home now have a price to beat. So thanks for helping me out with that.
Just one more thing. Please take another look at whatever mortgage calculator you’re using and see how your monthly payment will change if you brought your price up a bit. It almost certainly is not going to be enough to break you. But it may be enough to get us to a deal.
I look forward to your reply.
The Undaunted

I'm reprinting this because I think it is indicative of the current mind-set out there in the real estate market. Of course, all markets are local, and I think any buyer writing such a letter should use local stats. I also think that sellers should almost always counter, even if an offer seems low. You can't win unless you get in the game.

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