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In tight metro housing market, homebuyers seek edge with 'love letters' to owners

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Courtney and Kyle Opdahl
Courtney and Kyle Opdahl wrote a letter to the sellers of a home in North Oaks to make their case about why they should get the house in case of multiple offers or a higher bid.
MPR Photo/Annie Baxter

With the supply of homes in the Twin Cities hitting 10-year lows recently, homebuyers are facing stiff competition for houses. Many encounter bidding wars for properties.

To stand out in a crowded marketplace, some buyers have decided to employ a very traditional and personal medium -- deeply personal and emotional letters they hope will curry favor with the sellers.

• Twin Cities home prices jump 17%

Some people in the real estate industry refer to them as "love letters," and for good reason.

Consider these heartfelt notes:

"Dear Mr. And Mrs. Homeowner: My fiance and I have fallen in love with your home," wrote Kristy Grad and Jeff Wessel.

"Dear Seller: they say that love at first sight is a real thing. After meeting your house, I can confirm that it is, indeed, a real thing," wrote a Minneapolis woman named Tamara.

"Dear Homeowner: I absolutely love St. Anthony!" wrote Kyle Irestone. 

Some buyers write letters because they know other bids are on the table. They hope a personal appeal could help them beat a higher offer.

Others write to persuade homeowners who have yet to consider moving to put their house up for sale. 

Sometimes the strategy fails. But in a surprising number of cases, letters to sellers succeed.

Aleah Vinick recently wrote a letter to a seller that described the fondness she and her husband feel for the Powderhorn Park neighborhood of Minneapolis, where their dream house was located. 

"The neighbors, the events, the park itself shape our day to day and inspire us," she wrote.

They got the house. It's unclear if the letter made a difference. But the seller did tell Vinick's real estate agent that he appreciated it. He didn't mention the part of the letter Vinick left in by mistake, in which she accidentally included a gushy "hugs and kisses" closing -- left over from an early draft sent to her husband.

Libby and Dennis Strong
Libby and Dennis Strong, who now live in White Bear Lake, were touched by a letter from Courtney and Kyle Opdahl that talked about their plans to start a family and their appreciation of the natural beauty surrounding the home.
MPR Photo/Annie Baxter

"So the sellers got that, too," Vinick said. "But I would hug and kiss them! We love the house!"

The letters that buyers write tend to be personal to the point of being vulnerable. Others try to connect with buyers over something more universal -- like nature.

Courtney Opdahl and her husband had their hearts set on a house in North Oaks, an affluent and woodsy St. Paul suburb. During an open house, she noticed several photos of wildlife displayed around the home.

A nature lover, Opdahl decided to appeal to the seller's apparent fondness for critters and greenery. 

"We see ourselves bird-watching from Adirondack chairs on the front lawn or in the gazebo, surrounded by the home's lovely, mature trees," Opdahl wrote. 

The sellers, Dennis and Libby Strong, say the letter touched them. Dennis Strong said the Opdahls' appreciation for the beauty of the home made him feel proud.

"We put a lot of our own personal work into the house over the last 10 years, spent three years removing buckthorn from over an acre to get it back to the natural woodland state," he said. "And when you get a letter from someone saying they want to buy your house because they love nature and they're going to enjoy sitting and looking at the view you created, it means something really special."

Yoda and Kai
In a letter to a home's sellers, Kristy Grad and Jeff Wessel talked about their cats, Yoda and Kai, appealing to owners' interest in cats, noting how they "couldn't help but think how happy [their] two cats would be in a home like this." They even included a photo of the duo.
Kristy Grad and Jeff Wessel

As it turns out, the Opdahls made the highest bid on the home. But Strong said even if they hadn't, the Opdahls probably would have won out. Their letter was that compelling.

It might seem crazy that sellers would be willing to accept a lower price because they feel flattered or touched.

But it can make sense, said Elliot Eisenberg, a housing economist based in Washington, D.C. He said selling a home is not simply a matter of cold, hard economics.

"This is the emotional side of people," he said. "People enjoy giving of their time and money in all kinds of ways. This is just a weird way, albeit, but one more way of giving."

Jeff Wessel and his fiance were hoping for that kind of gift.

In a letter they recently sent to a seller, they tried to forge an emotional connection over their shared love of cats.

"We noticed a cat napping in the basement and couldn't help but think how happy our two cats would be in a home just like this," they wrote.

They even included a photo of the kittens. But the cute cats were apparently no match for a higher bid. On one of the couple's next offers, however, they were the sole bidders. They were able to skip the cat photos and still get the house.