How to Proactively Find Unlisted Properties

Posted by Sara Ifert on Friday, October 23rd, 2020 at 9:16am.

Many buyers have a preferred neighborhood or condo community in mind when they start searching for a home. However, there are not always homes for sale on the market that match their criteria. How do you find an unlisted home in that oh-so-perfect neighborhood or condo community? Our agents have been successful in helping our clients discover these properties with letter writing campaigns. A letter writing campaign is a targeted marketing strategy that can connect buyers with their ideal home - before it comes on the market. Read on for tips from Maureen Moran and Dan Miller on how to leverage this strategy.

Why do letter campaigns work? They often provide a benefit to both the buyer and seller, and lead to an easier sale.

Maureen Moran

Maureen: Receiving a letter from a potential buyer makes a seller feel important - even wealthy - because they sense they’re living in a sought after community. It can also incentivize a homeowner to sell, because they may be able to avoid a broker fee and net more money than if they were to list it.

From a buyer's perspective, it’s well worth the effort to find a property for sale before anyone else. In most cases, buyers who write letters want to live in a specific community and are prepared to purchase a home immediately. In other words, they’re not able to wait for a homeowner to list his/her property. Letter campaigns also allow buyers to feel more in control of their search, particularly if they've been actively searching for a home for some time. Condo communities are ideal for letter campaigns, because the price points and features among the units are typically quite similar. Buyers have a sense of a solid asking price once they’ve become familiar with a condo association. Buyers can target properties in single family neighborhoods too, although there will be a broader selection of properties to review, with different features, layouts, and prices.

Dan Miller

Dan: During this time of COVID, the prospect of a quiet and easy sale can be especially attractive to a potential seller. Working with a private party is viewed as a safer way to sell during the pandemic.

Plus, there’s the added benefit that letter campaigns can make the home buying/selling process feel more personal and less transactional. Buyers and sellers are often more willing to agree on the terms of the sale because they want to work with each other rather than go through the traditional, open market process. Based on my experience, a well-conceived letter campaign is successful about 75% of the time.

The Elements of a Great Letter Campaign

It’s best to keep it short and sweet, and refrain from gushing. A simple letter with a clear call to action is most effective.

What to include

Maureen: The most effective letters have a few main points. First, include a brief introduction about yourself and your home search goals. Secondly, describe why you are focusing on this particular community, and the amenities in the community that appeal to you. Finally, include a simple call to action, like: “If you are looking to sell this fall, please contact me.” If you’re working with an agent, mention that your agent can handle all the details of the sale.


Dan: As far as timing goes, letter campaigns in the fall and winter can be very effective because they catch sellers as they are preparing their home for the market. Your letter may land in the mailbox of a prospective seller who is just beginning to realize all of the things they’ll need to do to list their property in the spring. Suddenly, out of the blue, a private sale can feel like a golden opportunity for the right seller.

Special considerations

Maureen: Make your letter stand out in the mailbox! Address the envelopes by hand so that the letter looks more personal. You can also mail the letter in an envelope that is in a color other than white, so it stands out when it arrives.

Dan: Although we can help you craft the perfect letter, it really is best if the letter comes from you, the prospective buyer. Some real estate agents will send out letters that say, "I have a buyer for you," to owners in condo communities and neighborhoods. This approach is much less effective because the focus of the letter is on the agent, not the buyer. Sellers react more favorably when they feel they are receiving a letter from a real buyer.

Success Stories

Maureen: Recent buyers Polly and Jerry had seen a number of condo communities in Monona. Their choice of a preferred condo community was Monona Woodlands. They wanted to live on the 2nd or 3rd floors only. We sent about 40 letters to owners of condos on these upper floors in February, and we heard from a homeowner with the perfect unit in the spring. The buyers are the proud homeowners in this community now. They were delighted to be the only buyers the seller negotiated with, and they’re so happy to be living in their new dream condo.

My first experience with a letter-writing campaign was on behalf of my husband and me! We focused on a specific condo community we wanted to live in, so we wrote letters to all 83 households in the association. To our delight, we received responses from four residents, and one of these properties is now our current home! We were so fortunate to be in a position to buy at the exact time these sellers were ready to sell. Our readiness offered the sellers the least amount of disruption to their lives, a very important consideration for their family at that time. We love our new home!

We've had great success helping our clients buy unlisted properties through letter campaigns. A high sense of trust and good collaboration are always key. Are you looking to buy a home soon? Reach out for a free consultation and we'll come up with a plan that works for you and your goals.

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