Buying a home that wasn’t for sale
Overture resonates with owners who weren’t trying to sell
TOPSFIELD — Like many empty nesters, Abby and Boyd Jackson had thought about downsizing, but they were not in a hurry to give up their home of 37 years.
The Jacksons were patiently waiting for a unit in a nearby retirement community to become available when they received an unusual letter in July. It was a mass mailing to homeowners in the neighborhood from a couple weary of searching for a home in a real estate market where prospective buyers outnumber sellers.
The letter began, “Have you been thinking about putting your house on the market? Well we would love to buy your home!” Enclosed was a color photo of Dan and Meghan Keith; their daughter, Paige; and Jerry, the family’s pudgy pug.
A desperation move? Maybe, but in many Massachusetts communities, the number of properties for sale remains too low to meet demand, sparking fierce bidding wars for the most desirable homes.
“Everybody thought it was a total waste of time,” said Meghan Keith.
Not the Jacksons. In fact, it was just the nudge the couple needed.
Within weeks, the Jacksons struck a deal to sell the Keiths their four-bedroom Colonial on Ridgeview Road, and made plans to move to that nearby retirement unit, which had become vacant.
“I’ll be forever thankful to Dan and Meghan because they made us take the leap,” Abby Jackson said. “This way we had to move fast. We had to do a lot very quickly. It turned out it was the best thing that could have happened to us.”
Meghan Keith adopted a technique — the blind mailing — long favored by real estate brokers but generally not used by buyers. The Keiths, after three months of searching, were ready to try the unconventional. Meghan Keith canvassed neighborhoods by car, noting homes she liked on her iPhone. Using online directories and town records, she zeroed in on properties that were affordable and owned by older couples.
Then, with about 100 potential targets in Topsfield and Danvers, she launched the letter-writing blitz.
Real estate brokers say such ingenuity by buyers is necessary, given how tight the housing market is in many places, especially higher-priced suburbs. Some anxious buyers are waiving home inspections or agreeing not to add conditions to a sale, while others are reviewing old listings to find homes that did not sell and dropped off the market.
Mike DelRose Jr., a broker at RE/MAX Leading Edge in Watertown, said he encourages would-be buyers to write letters to sellers specifying what they like about a particular home — the big yard, the cozy living room, whatever it may be — and sometimes those details make a difference, he said. “You have to think a little bit unconventionally to get your clients what they think they need,” he said.
Meanwhile, many homeowners periodically get postcards or other mailings from local real estate brokers encouraging them to consider selling.
“It’s very easy for [brokers] to find people who are ready to move up or move down,” said Kimberly Allard-Moccia, president of the Massachusetts Association of Realtors.
The Keiths did not set out to go it alone, but they were getting edgy as summer arrived and the end of the prime selling season loomed. The couple had already sold their previous home in Danvers and were staying with Meghan’s parents in Topsfield while they searched for a new place to live.
The Keiths, both technology professionals in their early 30s who work in Boston, wanted a four-bedroom Colonial with a spacious yard on a cul-de-sac. Meghan used assessing records in Topsfield and Danvers to narrow the wish list to homes they could afford. She also eliminated from consideration properties owned by young families, figuring they were unlikely to want to move.
“We know firsthand how emotional moving can be!” Meghan wrote. “You can be confident your home would be well taken care [of] for many years in the future.”
The Keiths received 12 responses. Most wrote back simply to say they liked the letter. Three, including the Jacksons, said they might be interested in selling.
The Jacksons considered the Keiths’ proposition for a couple weeks before inviting them to visit in August. Over glasses of wine, they talked about the history of the neighborhood and the house. In the end, they said, the decision to sell was about more than the $600,000 price.
“We wanted to know there would be someone who would take care of the property,” said Abby Jackson, who with her husband raised two sons in the home. “We just had a good sense about them.”
On a recent afternoon, the Keiths were busy turning their new house into a home — adding a fresh coat of paint and curtains to 20-month-old Paige’s room — and perhaps still coming to terms with the success of their unorthodox real estate plan. “Everybody thought I was crazy,” Meghan Keith said. “But it ended up working out, which is weird.”