People who already own real estate in your neighborhood don’t need as much convincing about the fabulosity of the area. After all, they already bought real estate in the same area, right? When selling land, your neighbors may be your best prospects!
How can you make them aware that your land is for sale? Maybe you have a sign on your land. The neighbors surely see the sign, don’t they? That’s what you’re assuming anyway. Plus it’s in the MLS and advertised all over the Internet. So why write letters to the neighbors too?
Six Reasons to Write to the Neighbors
- Your vacant land parcel probably has other vacant land parcels near it. By definition, the owners of those vacant parcels don’t live on their land and might even live in another state. They will not see your sign. So write to them!
- The neighbors who do live nearby may have glanced at your sign when it went up. But now your faded sign doesn’t even register with them anymore. To them, it’s become more debris stuck in the weeds as they rush off to take the kids to soccer practice. But if they receive personalized invitation to buy your land in the mail – now that will have impact!
- Mailing a letter sends a message that you are serious about selling your land. Why? Because not every seller does it. Your neighbor will likely realize that you are sending letters to all the neighbors. That’s a good thing. It will start to dawn on them that if they don’t buy your land someone else will (!) and then they may have a McMansion blocking their view. Or they may wake up one morning and find a single-wide mobile home and bunch of barking dogs on the parcel that they’ve been thinking of as their informal side-yard all these years, yikes.
- Even if the neighbor isn’t interested in purchasing your land, they may know someone who is. If they have a paper brochure they can easily hand it to a friend or relative.
- A letter gives your neighbors a kind of “heads up” that they should expect to see strangers (potential buyers and their agents) out walking on your land. This way they are less likely to fret about unusual people in the neighborhood. Warning the neighbors reduces the chance that they will disturb buyers, causing buyers to feel unwelcome.
- A mailing gives your broker the opportunity to indirectly market their services to the neighbor in the event the neighbor wants to sell their property too. Now wait a minute, you wonder, why the heck is this good for you, the seller? There are many reasons: a) If your parcel is landlocked (i.e., does not have road access or a legal easement) and the neighbor owns the parcel between your land and the road, it would benefit you to have your Realtor list the neighbor’s land for sale at the same time. b) Buyers might want larger acreage. By offering two parcels for sale, buyers can purchase both, increasing the odds of selling your land. c) Your neighbor may have a well while you do not. Buyers might purchase their parcel for the well and yours for the additional acreage. d) The neighbor may have a structure or fence encroaching on your land or visa versa. Sell both parcels together to the same buyer and the problem is basically solved. e) With two listings, there will be twice as much marketing for land in your neighborhood. Buyers could see an ad for the neighbor’s parcel but submit an offer on your parcel….I could go on and on with examples on how this could be in your enlightened best interest.
My Letter to the Neighbors
Dear Mary Jones,
I am writing to let you know about the availability of a parcel of land near property that you own in SomeCity, California. The parcel for sale (parcel number 1234-567-89 at 987 Main St and your property (parcel number 1234-567-90 are shown on the map in the enclosed brochure.
I find that neighboring property owners are sometimes interested in acquiring nearby land. With that in mind, I am writing to ask whether you might be interested in purchasing my client’s parcel? The asking price is only $200,000.
More information is available at www.land22.com.
I would be happy to answer any questions you might have. Thank you for considering this opportunity.
Tammy Tengs, Sc.D.
Land22 Real Estate
Important Features of the Letter
- Keep it short. Include a longer brochure with the letter that has all the details on your land. Don’t repeat those details in the letter.
- Direct the letter to each neighbor by name, not to “Dear Neighbor”.
- Your neighbor may own more than one parcel of land so orient them right off the bat to which of their parcels you’re writing to them about. Include the city and state. If it’s in a well-known area or neighborhood within a larger metropolitan area, mention the local area in addition to the the city. For example, you might say that it’s in “Silver Lake, Los Angeles” instead of just “Los Angeles” in case the seller owns other parcels in the greater Los Angeles area.
- It’s critical to include not only the parcel number (APN) of the property you’re selling but also the APN of the neighbor’s parcel. This way the neighbor can easily see that the APNs are very similar. This allows them to gain insight that the two parcels are near one another. For example, if you’re selling APN 1234-567-89 and the neighbor’s APN is 1234-567-90 you want the neighbor to say to herself “hey, those numbers are almost the same so that lot for sale has to be right near my land!” People are more likely to buy land that is close to the land they already own.
- If the land you’re selling has a street address, include that too. If an address is unavailable, include just the street name. If the parcel is not on a legal street but it is near a legal street say “off <street name>” instead of “on <street name>”. Again, your goal is for the neighbor to immediately realize “gee, that’s (just around the corner from) the street my property is on.”
- The letter must be well written with no typos. Use the spell- and grammar-check features in your word processing software.
- Use the mail merge feature in your word processing software so that you don’t have to draft a separate original letter for each neighbor. Create a little data file of the names, addresses, and parcel numbers and merge them into a single form letter so that the letter appears customized for each recipient. I enter my neighbor-addresses into my Filemaker Pro database and then I export them into a file that I use for mail merge into a Microsoft Word letter.
Important Features of the Envelope
Envelopes that appear to be junk mail will end up in the garbage. Direct marketing researchers actually study the features of envelopes that increase response rates. Based on what I have read about direct mail research, and my own experience, here are my tips for your envelope:
- Use colorful stamps. Do not use the standard flag stamps and never meter the envelopes. Any crazy stamp will do. The less staid it is the more likely your letter will look personal and the more likely the recipient will open it. Remember, you’re not trying to look professional here – you’re trying to get your letter opened.
- The return address should be the Realtor’s first and last name and mailing address. Do not include the real estate company name or the neighbor might toss it without even opening it thinking that it is just another general solicitation from a Realtor. (The letter inside should be on company letterhead however.)
- Do not use address labels or see-through window envelopes. There is research showing that if you hand write the address on the envelope the recipient is more likely to open it and not discard it as junk mail. If the mailing is small, and if you have time, consider handwriting addresses on each envelope. (I don’t hand-write because I don’t have time – I feed envelopes through the printer for addressing but if you do you might improve your response rate.) The goal is clear though: it to should look like personal correspondence not a mass mailing. This way the neighbor is more likely to open the letter.
- Use the neighbor’s actual name whenever possible. Try not to use impersonal entity names. For example if the property is officially owned by the “Mary Jones Separate Property Trust 1998”, address the envelope (and direct the letter) to just “Mary Jones”. If it is owned by “Bob Anderson Construction Inc.”, address the envelope to “Bob Anderson”.
- Omit Mr., Ms. or Mrs. The reason for this advice is that title records do not include gender and you don’t want to get it wrong. A Mr. named Leslie will almost certainly be offended if you mess up and call him Ms. Also a Ms. might be unhappy to be called Mrs. and a Mrs. might be miffed to be called Ms. So just omit this stuff entirely. Start your letter with “Dear Leslie Thompson” not “Dear Mr. Leslie Thompson” or “Dear Mary Jones” not “Dear Ms. Mary Jones.“
Single Most Important Feature of the Brochure
The brochure should include things like the price, size of the parcel, zoning, availability of utilities, photos, contact information for the Realtor, etc. Here I will mention only the single most critical feature of the brochure for the purpose of writing to the neighbors: You should add to the brochure a map where both the property for sale and the neighbor’s property are highlighted.
I usually do this in color on a black and white plat map but you could do it on another type of map such as an aerial map. The purpose of this is to show the neighbor where their property is located relative to the land for sale. For example, if their property is adjacent to the one you’re selling it’s especially important that they see clearly that the borders of the two properties touch. Use colored highlighting to accomplish this.
In theory you could do the highlighting neatly on the computer but I do it by hand with a colored highlighter pen. The rest of the brochure is computer generated so this hand-drawn touch draws attention. I highlight the parcel for sale as well as the neighbor’s parcel in two different colors. Be sure to write a note such as “your adjacent property” or “your land across the street” and draw an arrow pointing to the neighbor’s real estate. It is important to include this note because you don’t want the neighbor to get alarmed thinking that you’re mistakenly trying to sell their parcel.
Here is an example. The property for sale is highlighted in orange and the neighbor’s property is highlighted in blue:
You might wonder: Why am I showing the neighbors where their own land is located? Don’t the neighbors already know? No, many do not! And even if they do, most could not locate it on a plat map. They still need to be shown where their land is relative to the land you’re selling. Plus you’re trying to get them to think visually “hey, the acreage our house sits on could be twice as big if we only bought that land!” Or “Gosh, that would be a sweet spot for Grandma’s doublewide, I can see it’s right near our house!” The parcel number (APN) is helpful but not sufficient. So pull out that colored highlighter!
Where Do You Get The Mailing Addresses?
If your land is listed for sale with a Realtor, your agent can easily access the names and addresses of your neighbors from an online title records database. One such database is Realist. Realist is integrated into California MLS systems so available to most California Realtors. Since sellers cannot log into the full MLS, Realist is not available directly to sellers. Realtors in other states may also have access to Realist or something similar or can get addresses from title companies or other online sources.
One way an agent can locate the names and addresses in Realist is to use the parcel number (APN). For example, if your parcel number is APN 1234-567-89 and the Realtor wants to locate a number of parcels near by, she can search on just APN 1234-567 (omitting the -89 at the end). This will generate a list of owners with APNs 1234-567-01, 1234-567-02, etc.
If the parcel you’re selling is located at the corner of a plat map you may wish to search for neighbors on adjacent plat map(s) too. The way I do that is to poke around using the aerial map feature in Realist. I locate the parcel I’m selling on the Realist map and then click on the map depiction of adjacent and nearby parcels to see who owns them, one by one.
Then I enter each address into a database manually: Name, mailing address, parcel number (APN). This takes about 30 minutes. For all of you computer aficionados or millennials, wondering why I do this manually, it’s because there is no simple way I could translate my thought process on neighbor selection criteria to create data export rules. It varies by parcel and it’s an art. I could probably automate the process, cast a wide net, and blast out a huge number of letters to everyone within a mile or something. But then I’d be spamming a bunch of people who would have no interest in this parcel and I don’t want to do that. It’s not nice. Better to be more selective.
Which Neighbors Should You Write To?
The number of neighbors that your broker should write to depends on the circumstances. Here are some rules of thumb:
- Always send a mailing to every adjacent property owner.
- Send a mailing to the property owner(s) across the street.
- Mail to any property owner who would be disadvantaged for any reason by someone building on this parcel, e.g., because their view would be obstructed. These neighbors may be motivated to purchase.
- Send a mailing to “like” property owners on the same or adjacent plat map. For example, I am currently listing a commercial-zoned parcel that is near other commercial lots but also near residential and multi-family property. I reasoned that the commercial property neighbors may be investors interested in expanding their commercial holdings (they are “like” neighbors) but the single-family homeowners may not be so interested so I skipped them.
- Don’t hesitate to write to neighbors some distance away if you think they may be buyers. After all, it’s only costing you a postage stamp and the time to enter one more name into your data file. For example, if you’re selling agricultural acreage, it doesn’t hurt to write to other farm owners a mile away.
- Skip owners who are not going to buy your land. An example would be a bank. The reason a bank owns a parcel of land in your neighborhood is because they foreclosed on the previous owner. They do not want more land. They want less land.
- I often send mailings to 50-100% the property owners on the same plat map and several who are on the adjacent plat map. I write to 2-25 neighbors per property, depending on the circumstances. Sometimes I will do this in two stages: I will write to a small handful of the closest neighbors and then, if I don’t get any response from them, I will do a second mailing, enlarge the pool, and write to those farther away.
- After the first mailing, if the seller later drops the price, I will send another mailing to the same neighbors. This time I only send the brochure with the new price clearly shown. I do not include a letter and do not repeat the highlighting of the two parcels. The purpose of this second mailing just to get the new lower price in front of the neighbor.
Examples of Success in Writing to Neighbors
Example 1: A couple years ago I was listing a Gold Country parcel in Northern California. I wrote to nine neighbors. The seller lived in the state of Nevada and was not in communication with his California neighbors. Two neighbors who received my letter called me to express interest. One neighbor submitted a full price cash offer. The seller accepted it. Afterwards, the second neighbor’s daughter asked to submit an offer but the parcel was already in escrow.
Example 2: Title records revealed that only two landowners dominated ownership of all the lots in the immediate area of a Central California lot that I was listing. Since there were only two neighbors I sent only two letters. Of the two neighbors, it was the landowner who owned the fewest parcels who called to submit an offer. The seller accepted it. The buyer lived several hundred miles away. I had advertised the land widely all over the Internet. However, in the end it was the money I spent money on two postage stamps the caused the land to sell.
Example 3: When I told the seller of this Riverside County parcel that one of my common sales practices was to write letters to neighbors inviting them to buy the land, my client seemed a little alarmed. She agreed that I could write to the neighbors but instructed me NOT to write to a particular neighbor. I didn’t ask why but I said OK. I sent out the first mailing. Unfortunately, none of the neighbors responded. Later the seller lowered the price. As I was preparing a second mailing, the seller told me I could now write to the excluded neighbor, so I did. The originally excluded neighbor contacted me and asked to buy the land. It turns out she was the seller’s estranged sister! The sister wanted to fold the acreage back to the “family farm” that she had inherited so that her parent’s farm would be intact once more. I assisted the sister with a full price cash offer. By close of escrow, the two sisters were on cordial speaking terms.
Example 4: I was listing a parcel in a fancy gated community in Southern California. I wrote to 9 neighbors. Some of the neighbors called me to let me know that they did not like “strangers” (buyers and agents) coming through their community gate to view the land for sale. (Sigh, oh well…) The owner who lived adjacent to the land I was selling had a cool log home in a private location at the end of a road. He was tired of all the people coming down “his” road to look at the land for sale. So when he received my letter, my e-mail address was conveniently at his fingertips. He immediately sat down at his computer, negotiated a price by e-mail, submitted an offer via electronic signature in DocuSign, and closed escrow 30 days later. The seller was happy and the buyer was pleased to have no more “strangers” coming down “his” road.
As you can see, writing to the neighbors works! Try it. When selling land, encourage your Realtor to write to the neighbors!