Real Estate Matters: Reader seeks advice on approaching neighbors with interest in purchasing their home
Q: I live in a suburb of Chicago and have two neighbors across the street who I have met a couple of times at block parties. Both are a bit older than I am. My guess is that at some point in the next five to 10 years these neighbors will move out and sell their home. They have the kind of property that a developer would likely buy, tear down and build a large home there.
My wife and I have the perfect home for our family of two boys, ages 10 and 12, but I know we can’t age in place in our multilevel 1950s brick ranch with stairs all over the place. I’d like to write these neighbors a tactful letter indicating my interest in buying their home. I would buy it privately, should they want to sell, based on three appraisals. I’d pay for one, they’d pay for the second, we’d share the cost of the third and then we would transact at the midpoint.
My intention would be to either rent the home, tear it down or make it into our family home. Should I move forward with this plan? And, if you think it’s a good plan, what should I include in this letter?
A: Nice idea. Buy your neighbor’s house, tear it down and put up your “forever” house. We feel that part of your plan (where you reach out to the owners) is well intentioned but you’ll need to handle the whole thing with finesse so it doesn’t blow up in your face.
We see no problems if you want to reach out to your neighbors and let them know that you’d like to talk about buying their home when they are ready to move on. That’s a fairly common thing for neighbors to do. While COVID-19 makes it somewhat difficult, we’d prefer you make your case in person, as it’s easier to chat casually with your neighbors and get an instant read on how open they are to this suggestion.
You’d say, “If you’re ever thinking about selling your home, we’d love to talk to you about buying it.”
We’ve done that with neighbors (it doesn’t always go well, by the way), and we know of a number of other people who have done it successfully.
Sending a letter could be more awkward. You don’t know what is going through their lives these days with COVID-19 and won’t know if your correspondence will hit them at the right or wrong moment. If it hits at the wrong moment, it could cast a pall over your neighborly relationship. And if you suggest that you want to tear down the house, it could set them off if they love their home and don’t want to see it replaced.
We don’t mean to suggest that written inquiries aren’t done; they are. Frequently, real estate agents in hot neighborhoods will blanket homeowners with letters letting them know that they have an interested buyer looking to move into that neighborhood and asking those homeowners to let the agent know if they are interested in selling. We’ve also heard of agents going door-to-door with the same information.
While that can be off-putting, there’s nothing wrong with you bringing it up with your neighbor in friendly conversation.