Personal Letters and Home Sales in Portland

fair housing letters portland real estate

In a tight inventory market (Portland real estate market is loosening up and cooling down, but many areas still have tight inventory) buyers often try the personal-appeal strategy: Writing a letter to sellers to go along with their home offer. The idea is to make an emotional case for their offer to be selected, even if it’s not, say an all-cash offer for 10% over the asking price.

Do they work? There’s no hard data I’m aware of, and often times sellers will not disclose whether or not they even read the letter. Still, when they’ve found their dream home, most buyers want to do anything they can to be the winning bidder. Here are our real estate agent tips on doing the letter right.

Letters and Fair Housing

Unfortunately, not all home buyers and sellers are aware that selecting a home buyer based on a letter could open them up to legal problems. That’s because these letters often include information that can lead to a violation of fair housing rules.

The fair housing laws that apply in Portland seek to level the playing field for home buyers, preventing discrimination — whether intentional or not — and preferential treatment of buyers based on things that should be irrelevant.

At least three levels of fair housing rules apply to Portland real estate transactions: Federal, State, and Local (Portland). In a nutshell, these laws prohibit discrimination based on any of the following:

  • Race or national origin
  • Religion
  • Gender
  • Disability
  • Familial status (for example, saying you’re going to house an elderly parent, or that you have or will have children). Oregon rules also extend this to marital status.
  • Sexual orientation (Portland city ordinance)
  • Source of income (Portland city ordinance)
  • Age (Portland city ordinance)

Does this mean you can’t include pictures of the family with your letter? Fair housing law experts and good real estate agents advise against it. Ditto for mentioning a new job as the reason you’re moving to the area, or the fact that you’d like to retire into the home (implying your age range).

It sounds harsh, but these rules do make sense. Portland neighborhoods should be inclusive and welcoming of people of all backgrounds; generally, the less a seller knows about a buyer, the easier this is to achieve.

So, What Can You Say?

After understanding fair housing rules, it may feel impossible to write a letter attempting to convince a seller to select your offer, but there’s no reason not to try. The idea is simply to help your offer stand out from the rest, and sellers are within their legal right to make the decision based factors that are relevant to the home sale, such as a buyer’s ability to secure financing. Good areas to focus on in your letter to Portland home sellers would be:

  • The simple fact that you’re not a developer. Most homeowners don’t want to see their charming old house torn down for an apartment complex, and with high pressure for infill in Portland, demolitions are on the rise.
  • What you love about the house. To follow up on the fact that you’re not going to tear it down, start listing your favorite features of the home. For most sellers, it’s easier to think of parting with their home if they know someone’s going to enjoy it and take good care of it.
  • Financial soundness. If you are pre-approved for the mortgage (and feel free to go into the specifics only while consulting your mortgage lender and real estate agent), let sellers know in your letter. Most sellers would prefer a hassle-free closing process, and since many home offers that don’t go through have a financing issue, it’s worth mentioning.
  • Determination to buy. Sellers and listing agents hate it when the buyer makes an offer only walk away a day or two later due to “cold feet”. It is easy contractually (typically) for a buyer to walk away from the transaction early on in the process, so it can help the seller if they know you’re really sold on this particular home (and why).

Putting Ideas Into Words

Stuck on writing a great letter to the owners of your dream home? It may be tempting to search Google for a “buyers’ letter to the seller” and then do some copy and pasting. It’s fine to read these as examples, but when you sit down to write the letter, start with a blank page. As awkward as it may end up, using your own words is far more genuine — and sellers will know the difference. Here are some tips to avoid writers’ block:

  • Do it in the morning. Most of us are freshest before noon, and will have an easier time putting our thoughts together.
  • Write on paper. It’s less intimidating than staring at a blank screen. Plus, you can doodle to get your hand moving. Just type the letter for the final draft so that it’s clearly legible and easy to read.
  • To get started, imagine you’re gushing about the house to a friend, your spouse, your parent — anyone you would normally tell about how excited you are. Getting over the hurdle of writing to a stranger is often the hardest part, and you can always edit later to make the tone more professional.
  • Run it by your real estate agent. They’ll be able to tell if your letter will be effective, and whether there is any information that could be a fair housing area. If it’s in doubt, take it out.

If you haven’t identified a good buyer’s agent yet, we hope you consider our top 1% buyer’s agent in Portland – Kami Price.

Letters From the Seller?

Some home sellers are now taking the buyers-letter-to-the-seller idea and turning it on their head, according to Oregon Live. They profiled a Lake Oswego couple who wrote their neighbors a letter to let them know their home was coming on the market.

The sellers’ main motivation for writing the letter was to say goodbye after living in the home for 30 years. But letting their neighbors know that their home was for sale was also a smart marketing move. Rather than simply relying on traditional real estate advertising, they leveraged word of mouth to build interest in their listing. The letter touched on the home’s desirable features, but was not a sales letter — its main goal was to be heartfelt and genuine. Now it isn’t that likely that your neighbors are sitting there waiting to buy your home, but it can’t hurt, it is very polite, and your neighbors may know someone who wants to move in the area. The seller’s letter will be a lot more effective than a postcard from a real estate agent, no matter how good that postcard is.

If you’re thinking of selling your home in Portland, the first step is to get it listed by a top real estate agent on the regional MLS system. That’s the place where most offers will come from. We hope you will consider our pay less and get more model, where we charge a max. of 4.5% commission but pay more to market your home online so it sells faster and for more.

June 11, 2018

Stephen FitzMaurice

Stephen FitzMaurice, Realtor is a top 5% real estate agent in the U.S. and a top 1% agent in the Portland Metro. Principal Broker in Oregon, Managing Broker in Washington he has been licensed since 2003 for residential real estate sales in the Portland Metro area. Call him direct: 503-714-1111.

Pay less (4.5% commission max.) and get more with his top 1% listing team or buy your next home with his excellent top 1% buyer’s team. We work from Salem, Oregon to Vancouver, Washington and beyond. Check out our full services areas on the top menu.