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Buying a Home

Buyers turn to letters to snag homes in Canada’s hot real estate markets

TORONTO — Monica Martins and her husband had been looking for a house for nine months by the time they fell in love with a “character home” in Toronto’s east end.

With demand for properties high and bidding wars the norm, they knew getting the home wouldn’t be easy, so to convince the seller to choose their offer, they decided to go beyond simply digging deep into their bank account.

Despite her husband’s doubts that it would carry much weight, Martins put a pen to paper and scrawled a note that described her family, detailed how much they adored the home and noted that she and the sellers had shared tastes in books and furniture. She also included an informal commitment not to gut or demolish the place as had been done to another property down the street.

“If you pick us, we will make it our own over the years, but we love the house that you’ve loved so dearly and would love to live in it and raise our family in it,” Martins recalled writing, before tucking in a photo of the family complete with her daughter and dog and leaving the note with her realtor.

The note placed the Martins in a growing group of Canadian buyers who are opting for the personal touch in hopes of gaining an edge in heated markets — and realtors and sellers say such missives often do the trick.

Agents told The Canadian Press it is not unusual for clients to ask them to deliver notes sprinkled with mentions of single parents, millennials saving up for a first property or young couples looking for a place to raise a family. They often mention how much the prospective buyer loves features of the home, like a big backyard, stunning wood floors or a spacious kitchen, and frequently talk about the sender’s occupation, hobbies and hopes for the property.

While the letters could be viewed by some as desperate and having a negligible effect on the offers process, some realtors describe them as a “must” because they said sellers often seriously consider sentiments relayed in a note when choosing what offer to accept, especially when a home has long been in the family.

Donald Bergeron, a lawyer, received a letter when he and his wife put the Etobicoke home, where they lived for about 23 years and raised their children up for sale recently.

They received a handful of offers, but one came with a “very well-written” letter detailing that the senders loved the neighbourhood and admired the two renovations the Bergerons had done on the house. He later found out the letter writers lived just down the street and had often trick-or-treated at his home, where their children would always tell their parents how nice the property looked.

Bergeron and his wife ended up accepting the writers’ offer after some haggling over financing conditions, but he said the note wasn’t the deciding factor.

“It capped off our good feelings that we had chosen the right folks,” said Bergeron. “Reading the letter was almost like the whip cream on top of the sundae.”

He said letter writers run the risk of appearing corny or overdone and should know that a lot of buyers are still ultimately driven by money.

“Whether the letter trips it over the top, I can’t say it does, but it doesn’t do it any harm either,” he said.

In the Martins’ case, they weren’t the only buyers to write a letter and didn’t have the highest bid, but still landed the property. The sellers later told them their “impactful” note sealed the deal.

“Someone else in their neighbourhood had a character home and was given assurances that it wasn’t going to be a flip job and then the buyer got in there and the day after closing, the demolition trucks came and he never lived in it,” Martins said.

“(Our sellers) felt that we were authentic in our communication, which we absolutely are.”

Toronto realtor Ben Ferguson, who represented the Martins and often includes cover letters about his clients along with their bids, said letters were used long before the city’s market heated up last year.

While some sellers make money the deciding factor in which bid they chose, he said most “care about who they sell the house to, not just the price.”

That mantra was true years ago when he took a client to visit a home for sale in Toronto’s east end that featured a basement filled with KISS memorabilia and electric guitars. Ferguson’s client was coincidentally a massive fan of the band, so when he threw in his offer, he sweetened the deal with an original KISS concert t-shirt dating back decades.

The seller had two very similar offers to consider, but when he heard Ferguson’s clients offer, he said, “Oh my god, I don’t even own a KISS original t-shirt.”

“It swayed the seller,” Ferguson said. “We got the deal done.”

Montreal realtor Amy Assad hasn’t heard of bidders offering anything as creative as a KISS t-shirt, but said letters have been cropping up in the province in recent years, and carry the most weight when they’re given to sellers who have long lived in a home.

“People want to know they are trading their family home to another family,” she said, noting she has had clients bid $10,000 less than but still snag homes because of their letters.

“It is not always about dollars and cents.”

Follow @Tara_Deschamps on Twitter.

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press

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