How to Find and Buy an Off-Market Home

Posted by Dan Miller, REALTOR on Monday, December 29th, 2014 at 5:56pm.

letter to property ownersHousing inventory is much lower than it used to be - and demand is much higher - so for some buyers finding the right home can be a real challenge. In some neighborhoods the competition for homes is fierce. A well-priced listing in a popular neighborhood can sell within days (or sometimes even within hours) and with multiple competing offers.

However, there are a few different strategies you and your buyer agent can use to beat the competition to a great home in your preferred location. One very effective method is to deliver a letter to every home in your target neighborhood.

A personal letter offers a great way to reach home owners who are planning to sell but who have not yet put their home on the open market. 

As an example, our real estate team recently delivered 400 letters to a neighborhood on behalf of one of our buying clients. These letters resulted in responses from 12 home owners, and our client ended up buying from one of the twelve. This was a very "quiet" transaction. Because the home was never listed, there was no competition from any other buyers.

Three Keys to a Good Letter

An effective letter requires a little collaboration and a good working relationship between you and your real estate agent. Here are three tips for creating a letter that will generate a strong response. 

  1. Make the letter a personal note that is written from you to the home owner. The letter at the bottom of this post provides a fill-in-the-blank example. Your letter should include a few personal details about your search. It should also include your name and your contact information. This personal touch will generate a strong response. It will generate a stronger response than a letter that is written by your agent. Some home owners will disregard a letter from your agent because they will view it as an attempt to fish for a listing.
  2. Print the letter on your agent's letterhead. Our experience shows about half of the people who respond will prefer to contact your agent. The other half will prefer to contact you, so be sure you and your agent combine and track all of the responses that come in. 
  3. Print the letter on colored paper. Then your agent will arrange to have your letter delivered throughout your target neighborhood. This is when the fun begins. You'll start receiving calls and emails shortly after the letters go out. Soon you and your agent will be touring homes that you never knew would be available for sale!

Win-Win for All Parties

Every party in the transaction benefits from this outside-the-box approach. The buyer benefits by having an opportunity to purchase a home before the general public knows it's available for sale. The home owner benefits by accomplishing her sale while bypassing the extensive preparation that goes into a normal listing. The letter campaign is also great marketing for the agent. Every person who reads the letter sees the extra value the agent is creating for her buyer.

Why Letters Work

A letter works better than a post card or an email to a neighborhood listserv. The personal touch of a simple letter lends a lot of credibility to your cause, so your note will be read by almost every person who receives it. A slick postcard will be tossed out by some people, while a neighborhood listserv typically only includes a portion of the local residents.

A Sample Letter

Here's a simple letter that worked very well for one of our clients. Feel free to use this and tweak it according to your needs. Real estate agents: We use a free, customizable letterhead from Breakthrough Broker. This website is a great resource for free real estate marketing tools and ideas.

sample letter to neighborhood 

This article is published courtesy of:
Dan Miller, REALTOR
Mad City Dream Homes & RE/MAX Preferred
1619 Monroe Street #1, Madison, WI, 53711

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