To Buy A House, You Might Need an English Major

May 20, 2015

A Houston homeowner is holding an essay contest to sell his historic bungalow for $150. There’s a catch, however: The house, valued at $400,000, will go to the person with the best 200-word essay. The owner hopes to get 3,000 applications by mid-June to part with the house at market value.

While writing an essay to close the deal might sound like an unconventional strategy, Austin realtor Matt Menard says his clients do it all the time. “Particularly in the last about 18 months in the marketplace, as things have really gotten hot, where we anticipate multiple offers,” Menard says. “Then we’ll go to our buyer and tell them that it would be an asset for them to submit a short bio to personalize their offer.”

He says homes are a unique form of property. The longer people live in them, the more packed they become with memories such as first steps, holidays, birthdays, and graduations. Sellers want to pass their homes on to buyers who understand that – or want to build their own memories there. Keith Herbert, a broker in Spring, Texas, says these essays are sometimes a very important part of the process.

“We actually call them ‘seller love letters,’” he says. “If you walk into a house and you just love that house and you want to convey to that seller that you’ve found your perfect house - just like you’ve found your soulmate - it’s very much similar to that situation and it just might be that factor that tips the scale.”

A letter won’t cut it with any seller without a good offer attached. But even when the offer isn’t the highest, the right letter can seal the deal. When sellers choose which buyer they sell a house to based on heartstrings rather than purse strings, however, there might be some bias at play “They can’t choose their favorites based on protected classes because there could be some dangers of discriminating,” Menard says. “All other things equal if they get down to a dollar-and-cents decision and they like a buyer based on their story, they might choose them, they just want to proceed carefully.” 

Under the fair housing act, it’s illegal to discriminate based on ethnicity or religion. So Menard says if you’re selling your home and you’re thinking of hosting an informal essay contest, you actually have to be really careful. You could be stepping on a landmine.