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I asked a stranger to sell me their house, and they did.

This story can better be called, "the letter writing campaign that got us our dream house in our dream hood"

Last summer, we sold our starter home in a town we loved, ready to move further out into the 'burbs for a bigger house & more land. We had an offer on a new house - got to the inspection, where we discovered the house was clad in permeable stucco... not good. Not good at all. We walked away from the purchase, and sadly shifted the fam to an apartment (not ideal with a 1 year old and a big dog!) while re-starting our search.

After a few months of commuting we discovered around November that we'd made a big mistake moving from our beloved town, so we shifted our geographic parameters back there. Only challenge? We were looking for a single-family home in a town full of lovely twins. There was only one neighborhood that fit the bill, and it was perfect. Sounds easy, right? Wait for a house to come up on the market and then - boom - pounce. But it wasn't that easy (of course!) A house hadn't been listed for over a year in the neighborhood, and the year before, only one. I should tell you too, that by this point we'd parted ways with our agent. She wasn't able to give us any help that Zillow & Trulia couldn't, so we went off on our own to stalk this neighborhood. Hard.

Holidays came & went, spring came - and still no houses came up for sale. We felt pretty darn hopeless. Around the same time, I came across a story on the web about a successful home purchase that started with a letter in a stranger's mailbox asking them to sell their home to them. I figured, what else have we got to lose? And that's how I started my letter.

We went for a walk as a family around the neighborhood one sunny Saturday, pointing out homes we loved and jotting notes about each on my iphone. Trying our best to not act shady, which was hilarious, and hard! We came up with a list of 37 homes, out of the 130 or so, it seemed a decent number. Each letter started out the same, but had a custom note "I loved your porch" or "your fenced in yard would be perfect for our dog" Again, trying not to be creepy. I didn't want them to think I'd looked past their curb appeal!

A day after getting my letter out in the mail, I'd already gotten a phone call back. I ultimately received 5 responses in total - a decent return rate if you ask me! They ranged from "oh thank you, that was so flattering, but we're happy & staying" to "come, have a glass of wine, take a tour - make me an offer I can't refuse"

And then, we got the note that would change our real estate fate. A homeowner wrote me that he was going to be putting the home up for sale by owner in the next few weeks, and we were welcome to an early preview. A few follow ups later & we got to see it. We knew the second we walked in, that it was our house. We were among 3 other couples to walk thru that day (apparently word of mouth got this home some buzz!) by that night, we gave them an offer and it was accepted the next day.

We move into our beloved, fought-for dream home in two weeks. I'm giddily packing boxes as we speak.

I'm sharing this hoping it can help someone else who feels similarly helpless in this low-inventory real estate market. Ask me questions! Happy to help.

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Comments


  • Funny thing, we are on the receiving end of this a lot. My husband and I recently finished a complete gut renovation of an 1840's brick single family on a quiet and pretty street in Boston and we get letters in our mailbox on a pretty regular basis. Unfortunately, for the interested parties, this is my forever home.
  • Would love to see pics of the house! Also, I wondered if you might share what you wrote in the note. Was it long? Short?Did you introduce yourselves and say something about you and your family? Did you include photos of yourself? Great story! Thanks for sharing!
  • I would love to know what you wrote in the letter, too! Plainly out of curiosity :) This is such a great story!
  • What a wonderful story!! I can't wait to see pictures!!
  • We actually got a similar letter in the mail last week! While we are not moving, it was nice to know we live in such a desired neighborhood and I hope the family finds a house on our street soon. Great story.
  • Nardia_Cooper1Nardia_Cooper1 Palmerston North, New Zealand
    I have definitely got my eye on a few homes I would love to own if they ever go up for sale. Obviously you wanted to buy in this neighbourhood for a long time but what kind of research did you do into property values in order to know if you would be able to make an offer that would be accepted?
  • i have friends that did that same thing! they wanted to stay in their same neighborhood, but needed more space, so they wrote letters to some of the bigger houses owners. they had to wait a year or two, but ended up moving only a couple blocks over to a larger house that they loved. :)
  • What did you do with the letters you got back from the other homeowners? Did you write them back to say you found one, or did you meet them later and introduce yourself as having previously written to them?
  • My grandma did something similar back in the 1970s. She was selling her farmhouse, and saw a brick ranch that caught her eye, but it wasn't for sale. So she stopped in and asked whether they were interested in selling their house. As it turns out, they were just about ready to put it on the market, and she bought it!
  • I'm trying this method, after we had to walk away from a too-much fixer upper in our favorite neighborhood. However, I printed off about 15 letters and sprinkled them throughout the neighborhood, because we do not have one particular house we must have. One phone call so far, but the owner is set on selling in April or May, and her daughter is a realtor, so I don't have high hopes there (agent will want commission and seems to be saving it for spring). May try to pepper the neighborhood a bit more.
  • Brilliant. We may need to consider this approach
  • Sounds like you had a giant bit of luck on your side. fastest house buyer
  • Update: We had another person from that neighborhood call us about the flyer. Visited the house, and while it's a good house and lot, it wasn't our preferred layout and we'd fallen in love with another house in another neighborhood we hadn't thought about (now in escrow, closing in 9 days!!). We'd had a couple of other calls come in from people thinking of selling in the spring but wanting to get through winter before listing. I think one I could've convinced to see after the holidays, but again, we'd already found something else. So, the method works, I think, if you're willing to be flexible on timing.
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