When Home Buyers Contact Sellers Directly: Has This Worked for You? Or ON You?

published May 25, 2016
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(Image credit: Alexis Buryk)

Hi, Erin. I’m the buyer who saw and bid on your apartment earlier this month.

So began an email I received last spring from a guy I’ll call Chris. My little condo was on the market, listed with a nice agent at a regular real estate firm. Brokers and apartment hunters had been tramping through the place daily, kicking me out to peer in the fridge and disparage my spiral staircase. After some weeks, two buyers were interested. A bidding war (or at least a scuffle) was afoot.

I didn’t know much about the dueling parties beyond the terms of their offers. Not at first. But now here was buyer 1, all up in my inbox. He had tracked me down on the internet and thought it would be prudent to send me a personal screed through my work account.

Pleasure to meet you, Chris.

I came to see your apartment weeks ago with my girlfriend, and we immediately knew it was right, his email explained. We were 100% in love with your home and were confident everything was set. True enough: Chris had been first to bid on the unit, and I had verbally accepted his offer. It was close to my asking price, with a 30 percent down payment and a mortgage pre-approval for the balance. Solid stuff. I was thrilled.

Before we could sign the agreement, though, in swooped buyer 2. This guy was offering more money. All cash. A speedier closing. If offer 1 was solid, offer 2 seemed a sure bet.

Fearing he would lose out, Chris decided to bypass our agents and contact me personally. I apologize for reaching out to you like this, but we are at a loss, he wrote. I’m doing so in hopes that a direct communication will familiarize you with who we are.

While there’s no rule against buyers and sellers negotiating one to one, plenty of pros caution against the practice. In matters of the home, feelings can mess things up. Deals end unfavorably for certain parties, or just fall apart.

Chris’s email closed with an allusion to some recent tragedy in his life. He and his girlfriend were seeking stability and a sense of belonging. This apartment is a place where we would begin a new family and start again, he wrote. Would I consider sitting down to a phone call—just the two of us, so I could hear him out?

I was curious to learn whether an emotional plea would influence my judgment. So against the advice of my agent (“You’re playing with fire!!!”), I did agree to talk with Chris. Or rather: to be talked at by Chris. In our hourlong conversation that evening—which I recorded and transcribed, for…I dunno. Evidence? In case he showed up and bludgeoned me with a lockbox?—I mostly kept quiet. I heard about his family in Staten Island. About how he was a music nut, just like me. How we even owned the same couch. Wouldn’t it be weird if we became friends, and in a couple of months enjoyed a big laugh about all this nonsense over a nice dinner in town? (Yes, that would be weird, I affirmed.)

Chris wasn’t a bad dude. But he wasn’t the winning bidder, either. In the end I took the cold-hearted mercenary path and sold to Mr. Kwik Cash.

A year later, I sometimes wonder if this was the right choice. Does the new owner love the place as much as Chris did? Tough to say. My former neighbors tell me they’ve never even met the guy.