A house is rarely just a house to its owner. It’s the place where you painstakingly added your personal touches, the place where you built years of memories. And when you’re selling, chances are good you want to see your home go to someone who will love it as much as you did.
Increasingly, buyers will submit a personal offer letter in hopes of setting themselves apart from others making bids—and shedding some positive light on them as the potential new owner.
“A letter from a potential buyer should not be taken lightly,” says Tyler Whitman, an agent with Triplemint in New York City. “Homes are personal, and it should feel good knowing your house is passing to a great new owner who actually loves it.”
But what if that personal letter isn’t exactly sincere?
As we’ve all learned from the office, from everyday life, and, yes, even from the nightly cable news, most people lie on a regular basis. And a competitive real estate market can be motivation for a little—or a lot of—fibbing from buyers. So if you have a creeping fear that a heartfelt personal letter isn’t actually coming from the heart, you might just be right.
Want to weed out potential dishonesty? We chatted up the experts to find out how.
Look for the details
Small, specific details are simply harder to fake and can help you decide if a personal letter is genuine.
“More honest letters may be more detailed: family member names and ages, names of schools in the neighborhood, or other neighborhood facilities of which they are aware,” says psychologist Ramani Durvasula.
Now, every personal letter doesn’t need to read like a detailed biography, complete with info about where the buyers’ children play soccer and which family members will visit on Thanksgiving. But a letter noticeably absent of details raises a big, flapping red flag, Durvasula says.
An overly vague letter might not necessarily be a flat-out lie, but it could mean the seller is simply spamming several sellers with a heartfelt story in hopes of winning in a tight market.
“More vague letters may represent less honesty and more hustle,” Durvasula says. “It may just be a nonspecific form letter they keep submitting over and over again.”
Spotting a form letter is tricky, but doable: Check for the absence of details about your home. For example, “I love your home” could have easily started as “I love [fill in neighborhood here].”
In the end, a good letter will have enough details about someone’s life to explain why they think the home is right for them, and enough details about the home to show why it stood out for the buyer.
Save the drama for your mama
Although many buyers have legitimate hardships to overcome before buying a home, experts agree that too much drama can be a sign of lying. Letters that lean toward an endless cycle of heartache—death in the family, trauma, and one loss after another—could just be an invention to woo you.
“If it feels more like a Lifetime movie than a normal life, it may be suspicious,” Durvasula says.
Look instead for letters that make an effort to connect with you, the seller, on a personal level—not just tell a tale of woe.
“I wrote a novel on behalf of my client,” says Boris Sharapan Fabrikant, a broker with Triplemint in New York City. “My client grew up in the neighborhood. Her mom still lived in the neighborhood. The seller was a lawyer, so I mentioned that she too was a lawyer, and that this was her first apartment purchase.”
“The seller said it was the reason he accepted her offer,” Fabrikant adds.
Follow the money
If you receive a well thought-out letter along with a fair offer (and it doesn’t ring any other alarm bells), odds are good the buyer is honest.
On the other hand: “If the offer is a lowball and is accompanied by a suspicious personal letter, it could be they’re looking to get a bargain out of their sad story,” Durvasula says.
If you really can’t tell, don’t lose sleep over it—we all get swindled from time to time.
“At the end of the day … a good liar may be able to craft a ‘sad’ letter better than a person who is actually authentically living a story worth sharing,” Durvasula says.
Bummer, right? But as with any negotiation, you have to do your best to separate your emotions from the deal and choose the the offer that’s best for you. That way you’ll be in good position to seal the deal and move on to the next place you’ll call home.
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