Executive Director of Sales, Downtown
Sr. Vice President
Sr. Vice President
Exec. Vice President
By Elizabeth Harris
David Motta and his wife, Michele Pagnotta, wrote a letter to the previous owner of their West 89th Street apartment to accompany their bid.
David Motta and Michele Pagnotta met on 87th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues six years ago while they were out walking their dogs, Jake and Pancho. Slowly, after many walks, they started dating, and a few years later, they were married.
“So through the dogs, the romance began,” Mr. Motta said.
It’s a cute story. And earlier this year, when they were one of several couples bidding on an apartment on West 89th Street, just two blocks away, they made sure the sellers knew a little bit about it. They wrote the apartment and the neighborhood a love letter, and with the blessings of their brokers, Christopher Kromer and Nora Ariffin of Halstead Property, they sent the letter off to the sellers.
“We said we met on 87th Street and we’re expecting our first child, we love your space and the way you’ve created it,” Mr. Motta said of their letter. “And it’s true, we loved it.”
They got the apartment.
A home might be someone's most personal possession, but the process of buying and selling real estate is incredibly remote. So in a competitive bidding situation, some brokers recommend that buyers write a letter — part mash note, part college application essay — to the seller. It makes a buyer seem more human than does a sterile pile of financial documents, and it can set them apart from the rest of the pack. And sometimes, it can even tip the scale in their favor.
“There was an offer that was $8,000 higher,” said Ivana Tagliamonte, a broker at Halstead Property, speaking of an East Village apartment she recently sold. But the lower bid came with a letter. Her sellers, she said, were put off by the higher bidder, who had a lot of demands, but it was the letter that finally sealed the deal.
“And $8,000 is a lot of money," she said.
A letter will not bridge a $100,000 gap between bids, agents and brokers say, nor will it give you a leg up with developers selling new condominiums. (“Dear Mr. Trump: I love your buildings. I love your show. I love you.”) But if the playing field is basically even, many brokers say letters can be very effective.
“We can see ourselves walking across the street on a snowy Sunday morning with little Joey and his sled,” said John Burger, a managing director at Brown Harris Stevens, spinning out an example. “It pulls at the heartstring. And most sellers, even though they’re moving on, have some degree of attachment to the property.”
Those who advocate writing letters recommend a few key ingredients, the heartstrings being paramount (if you’re going to talk about children, mention their names), and anything the buyer and the seller might have in common (“You have twins? I have twins!”).
“It’s a love letter,” said James Crow, a broker at the Corcoran Group who has advised several clients to write them. “Go for the schmaltz.”
Another important element is specificity, which fosters more of a connection between the two parties.
“Wow, I love your green bathroom, or that you’re using your fireplace as a sanctuary when you do yoga,” suggested Jessica Buchman, a broker at the Corcoran Group, who recommends letters frequently. “I love that you have a birdbath in the toilet.”
The goal, she explained, is to have the seller think, “Oh, they belong to my club.”
Richard Grossman, executive director of downtown sales for Halstead Property, recommends this practice not only to buyers, but also to other brokers, in a seminar he gives on how to win bidding wars. He even suggests that buyers might want to augment the letters with a treat, like a batch of chocolate chip cookies or some nice muffins.
“Do you watch ‘Desperate Housewives’?” Mr. Grossman asked. “Isn’t that what Bree Van de Kamp shows up with when she wants something?”
Other brokers shy away from advising snacks, pointing out that peanut butter cookies could be received poorly in a house with peanut allergies.
But there are other, less dangerous ways a letter could go awry. Ms. Buchman said she once had a client, a potential buyer, who looked up a seller online and found out that both had been members of the same fraternity.
“He was referencing these college parties and talking about how hot the women were,” Ms. Buchman said of her client's letter. “You’re trying to buy the guy’s apartment, and he’s married now.”
She suggested that letters stay more on topic.
Roslyn B. Huebener, a principal broker at Aguayo & Huebener Realty Group, said she once received a letter from potential buyers explaining that they could not bid any higher because of their virtuous professions.
“They wrote about how they chose modest careers and didn’t go into banking and this and that,” Ms. Huebener said. “And they sort of suggested they were better people because of it.” She mentioned the note to her sellers, she said, but did not pass it along.
In the end, perhaps the surest way to keep a letter out of the reject pile is simply to have a way with words.
“There was one situation where I encouraged somebody to do it,” said Lindsay Barton Barrett, a broker at the Corcoran Group. Her client was a litigator. “When it was over, he said to me, ‘I write for a living in order to manipulate people and get what I want, so I knew it was going to work.’
'And my heart just sank. That isn’t how it’s supposed to be.”
Perhaps not. But he got the apartment.
Monday, March 26, 2012