juggling emotion and reason in an offer letter

belle_vaAugust 1, 2014

Hey y'all. I've never posted in this board though I am a longtime member of gardenweb and find the wisdom here truly invaluable. We are relocating because of my husband's job. He has been commuting for quite a while because we have been searching patiently for the perfect home. I am a passionate gardener and finding just the right garden is almost as important as finding the right home. After 8 months of aggressive searching, we've finally stumbled upon a real gem- an older home on a very large lot with spectacular though very neglected gardens. The home has only been owned by one family. The matriarch is now in assisted living and her son is handling the sale. The gardens make my knees weak. The house is beautiful and has good bones but has a lot of deferred maintenace because the owner was not able to take care of many things in the years prior to going into senior living. She has not lived in the home for at least five years and much of that time it has been empty. The price of the home does not reflect the work that needs to be done.

I want to write a letter to the seller about my love of gardening and how special the home is- especially her 50+ years of gardening- and obviously I want her to pick us to buy her home. But our offer simply has to take into account that there is 40-50k of major work that needs to be done either by the family before closing or by us soon after purchase. How do I write a compelling letter to the seller extoling all the virtues of the property while also being open about the work that needs to be done. The home is NOT advertised "as-is." Thank you!

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I don't know the special way to phrase it, but I do know this can be helpful. Some acquaintances did just that-- a lowball due to a lot of work needed on a stunning older home. They wrote a letter about why they wanted it so much and the sellers sold it to them. Good luck!

This post was edited by threepinktrees on Fri, Aug 1, 14 at 1:47

    Bookmark   August 1, 2014 at 12:09AM
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If the son is handling the sale, there is a good chance all he cares about is getting the most money for the house. He might need the money for the care of his mother. If the mother was handling the sale then it might have been easier to appeal to her emotions, but she will probably never see the letter.

You need recent comparable sales to back up your offer numbers. It won't hurt to let him know that you plan to refurbish the house/gardens and don't have plans to tear any of it down.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2014 at 1:05AM
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Are you in competition with other buyers? That would certainly affect whether or not I wrote a letter. If you are NOT in competition, I don't think I would show my hand with your first bid.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2014 at 2:22AM
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My thoughts are along the lines of chispa. The son is most likely handling the sale for his mom. She may not have the capacity to even understand the letter if written. So I would handle it as a business transaction and let the son know why you are offering the price you are. Have the paperwork to back it up. You can let him know that you are an avid gardener and would love to bring back his mom's garden to what they once were, but I do believe that you will just be dealing with the son on this transaction. NancyLouise

    Bookmark   August 1, 2014 at 6:37AM
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Thank you all for the responses. At the moment I don't believe we are in competition with other buyers. The realtor has said the feedback is that others are overwhelmed and intimidated by the neglected gardens and by the work the house needs. But surely someone else will quickly see what good bones it has. Such an elegant old home with beautiful wood floors, great moldings etc.

It hadn't occured to me that the son likely won't even share the letter with his mother. I guess that makes a huge difference. She is still listed as the owner on the tax records but I think he has power of attorney

I am also a bit apprehensive about taking on the projects (even with a concession or price reduction) because we will be brand new in this town and know no one outside of my husbands few new colleagues and getting good referals for contractors in a new place worries me. Our realtor is awful- we are planning to change if this house doesn't work out but since she showed it to us originally, if we make an offer I suppose it has to be through her. That adds another wrinkle. I'm having to do all my comparables research myself.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2014 at 9:25AM
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I would say to make the same case to the son. This sounds as if it is the son's childhood home and, with his mother in a nursing home, he may just love the idea of someone loving and caring for it. Yes, it is a business transaction, but there's also a lot of emotion involved in closing down what was once a family.

I speak from experience. I had to clean out my parents' home last summer, following the death of my father. My mother is also in a nursing home, so we rented their home out, below market rate, to a lovely couple.

Recently, my brother sent me photos of the beautiful gardens they had installed all around the property. I was in tears, knowing how much it would mean to my father to have his beloved home so well- taken care of.

Just make sure you don't come off as manipulative, and get your bids for the needed repairs in hand. Good luck.

This post was edited by deeinohio on Fri, Aug 1, 14 at 11:13

    Bookmark   August 1, 2014 at 10:14AM
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Many yrs ago----early 1980's my parents wrote a very nice letter along with their offer on the house. Ended up going against another couple, and I believe their bids were the same. They were told they won--because of the letter. Doesn't hurt!!

    Bookmark   August 1, 2014 at 10:39AM
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If there are no other offers, I wouldn't write any letter. Moreover, you state that the asking price does not reflect the work that needs to be done, i.e. the sellers believe the house is worth more than it actually is. Add to that that you're are in love with the house and want them "to pick you" and it sounds even more that they're justified in their asking price.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2014 at 12:15PM
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I'd write the letter. I wouldn't gush too much, but I'd say something like, "I'm an avid gardener, and I'd love to bring your mother's gardens back to their former glory. The house has charm, and has the potential to be worth the $XXX you're asking, but our contractor estimates the needed work to get there would cost around $50K, so that is reflected in our offer price."

    Bookmark   August 1, 2014 at 6:50PM
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Don't be afraid to show some emotion, if it's real and if it's positive. I wrote a letter like that for our current house, to the daughter selling it after it had been in their family for seventy years. We also offered a fair price, and a simple, easy closing - recognizing that their time and attention needed to be focused on the elderly parent, not a business deal.

So yes, absolutely write the letter -- what you said in your original post, formatted like weedyacres just said, including the dollar figures. Perhaps add words to the effect that you are hoping to live in the house and tend the gardens for many years to come -- if that is the truth.

Good luck to you. I love to see well-loved gardens restored to beauty!

    Bookmark   August 1, 2014 at 8:36PM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance Zone 9b

My husband and is ex wife are selling their home. They received a low-ball offer along with a nice letter.

the letter meant nothing. They have another higher offer, but it's on hold until the Chinese parents, paying cash, come here in Aug to view the home.

They did counter, and the "letter" people have come up, but not to what hubby and ex wife want for the home.

Yes, it does need updating, but they factored that in when pricing the home.

16 months ago, we made many full price cash offers, and wrote emotional letters. Didn't work. Market was hot, and investors play games like "no inspections" willing to close in 2 weeks. Cash...... You understand.

Good luck. The letter can't hurt. Write it. But when people have lived in a place for a long time, they don't see the need for updating. They are leaving a place with memories they love.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2014 at 8:45PM
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I would just make the low ball offer. Back it up with comps and estimates about the work. Your Realtor should tell you if there have been other offers.

We had a similar situation when we were house hunting. Older couple died leaving the house to their 3 children. One child lived in the house while on the market. The other two lived in other States. The sister of the dead woman was handling the sale although she was not an owner.

We liked the house but it needed so much work. We brought in a contractor to get some estimates, but concerns about structural problems came up.

Our Realtor discovered there had been other offers and recently an offer where the buyers backed out of the contract, due to inspection discovery.

We found out there were fruit-rats living in the attic and had caused electrical damage to the wiring and other problems.

We had made a low ball offer and it was denied by the children. The sister had a fit demanding they accept the offer. By that point we walked away. Boy, am I glad as we later found out fruit rats can take over a year to get rid of. I could not have lived with that.

The house never sold two years later. Have no idea why but it is still sitting on the market.


    Bookmark   August 2, 2014 at 12:50AM
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You all have given me such great advice and I am really enjoying reading older threads on this forum. Such interesting stories and so much good information. Gardenweb always impresses me. The rose folks ignited a passion within me. The kitchen board got me through a kitchen remodel... and now you all are helping with buying a new home.

The update is this- our preliminary list of 'deferred maintenance' was based on just what was plainly obvious to us and quick calculations with our go to contractor where we currently live - peeling paint & exposed wood, roof issues, rotten window frames etc. We went back with our realtor and our builder/ contractor friend.

The issues are much worse than our intial concerns- yes, house needs to be repainted and needs a new roof. A lot of the shake wood siding needs replaced. Yes there is rotten wood on many windows. There is also significant water damage on the lower level (a finished walk out basement, not clear what happened but there is a water line about six inches high on the whole level) and moisture/ water issues in a bonus room over the garage that was improperly renovated with no barriers/ insulation between the garage and the room- there is easily visible mold in the closets in that room and wood so rotten it crumbled when my husband touched it. All major systems need replacing. The back deck needs to be re-built. Posts right into the dirt with no cement and something about the weight of the whole deck resting on lag bolts. (It is a full storey off the ground...) So we are well into six figures and counting. And we already knew and planned to renovate the kitchen and bathrooms (4 of them!) which need updating.

So I know. I know. I need to let go, right? Despite all of this I still think it is absolutely charming and the gardens... oh the gardens! In one of the closets I found the original garden plan drawn out by the landscape architect in the 1960s. Absolutely vintage with all the shrubs colored in by hand- so sweet, so special. It is the sort of house you just want to bring back to life!

I asked my husband if there is a price at which he would be willing to take it on. (Our realtor said "RUN!" She was very emotional and said "the house is sick" almost like the poor old thing just seemed to have a terminal illness. She was so freaked out by everything we found.) Hubby thought it wasn't quite as bad as she did and that it might be doable at the right price.

But how many people can take on this sort of project? I am not a B list ex-celebrity with my own DIY network renovation show. And it is probably unlikely that the sellers will even consider an offer that takes all this into account since they don't consider it a fixer upper.


I would post a photo for you all so you can see how magical this place is-- but is it bad etiquette to post a photo of someone else's home? Seems like it might be??

    Bookmark   August 2, 2014 at 7:29PM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance Zone 9b

belle_va, if the house is in the multiple listings just post a link to it in the link section below. It's probably on Trulia or Zillow, and we can then get an idea of the magic.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2014 at 9:42AM
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So, have you had an inspection done on the house to identify what needs to be done or just looked more closely on your own? We paid for a full blown inspection prior to making an offer on our current home 10 years ago. (I think we paid $400 and I consider it money well spent.) We went in with an offer that reflected our findings rather than making an offer contingent upon findings. I'd suggest this if you haven't already done this.

This post was edited by jrb451 on Sun, Aug 3, 14 at 15:10

    Bookmark   August 3, 2014 at 3:07PM
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Had to smile a little about the offer letter. When we were making offers on houses, for one of the few that was an escrow sale, the agent told us she would write up a letter to go with the offer. I have no idea what she put in the letter or if it made any difference in the seller's decision.

I would have loved purchasing a house that had an old, overgrown garden. We ended up buying a house with large, concrete slabs because the owner hated landscape maintenance to such an extreme degree. We had to remove it by hand and repurpose most of it, prior to planting our garden.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2014 at 6:22PM
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Well, you could always try a little reverse psychology -- offer list price or whatever you would if the house was in good shape, with a contingency for inspections and repairs. Once those defects are detailed in an inspection, the seller will have to deal with them with any buyer because they are now known defects. The offers could get worse -- especially since folks who will take on the home repairs may not be people who would take on the gardening -- and then that becomes another huge price tag. Then you can appeal to the son's and seller's emotions -- have someone who wants to bring back the home and its gardens to its full glory or someone who may gut it or even tear it down.

And this advise is worth exactly what you paid for it -- unless it works. But you won't know if you don't try something. I wish you luck -- you're the kind of person I would want to buy the house.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2014 at 6:29PM
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We found ourselves in almost the same boat about 6 years ago the difference being that the owner had already passed away. The house we fell in love with was being handled by the owner's elderly niece & nephew. We saw the house, knew it would take a lot to get it liveable but by the time we convinced ourselves to make an offer, there was already a contract on the house. Long story short, the house had many problems & would need all new electric, termite treatment, new septic, window work, massive yard work, a rebuild of some retaining walls & perhaps worse: ridding the house of 50+ years of cigarette smoke. The first contract backed out & we put in a low offer (almost half of listing) with a nice letter explaining why and that we wanted to make this house our retirement home. We included a pretty long, detailed list of repairs needed & told them that we would take it as-is & that they didn't even have to come clean it out. They took it without even trying to counter it up.

Your case is different in that, as others have stated, his Mother is still here & the more money he can get for the house the more she has. Our case was uncomplicated because they had never put a dime into the house & were just splitting "free money" between the 2 of them. We eventually met them a year or so later when they came to pick up some old family photos we'd found during the clean-up. (That's another story - man, I wanted to keep those photos. They were so cool!) We had already done some of the work & they said their Aunt would have been so happy to see it coming back to the house she had built.

If I were you, I'd write the letter. Also, check out a show called "Fixer Upper" on HGTV. Their clients buy the absolute worst house on the street & they do massive work to make them beautiful. Granted, they are in Waco, TX and the prices are super low, but I thought about that show while reading your description. Good luck. Please keep the group posted!

Posted edited to add that I really wish you would post the listing so we could see it.

This post was edited by guvnah on Mon, Aug 4, 14 at 10:30

    Bookmark   August 4, 2014 at 10:13AM
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I'm going to try posting a link to a photobucket album with a few photos I took at our last visit. That seems more respectful than putting the real estate listing out there in the world. I am no photographer so I am not sure if the sheer wonder of this garden will come through. And really it is the structure that gets me going. 40+ year old Rhodies, specimen trees and shrubs... many of the perennials have faded because of neglect and would need to be replanted. But I will have a full size moving truck full of divisions from my current garden!

Edited to add: Yes, I know the inside is retro fabulous. I couldn't bring myself to post the photo of the bathroom with the pink jacuzzi tub.

http://s486.photobucket.com/user/stealthecrumbs/library/peggys garden

This post was edited by belle_va on Mon, Aug 4, 14 at 21:07

    Bookmark   August 4, 2014 at 9:05PM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance Zone 9b

Looks like a special place. We bought a special place too, with many defects, and it sat on the market for years until foreclosure loomed. We got it on a short sale. Some sellers just don't really get it. We got ours for $300,000 less than the original ask, but it cost $150,000 to fix it, and we are not done.

Repairs cost money, and buyers aren't dumb.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2014 at 9:59PM
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Thanks for posting the pictures. I can see why you love it. I was expecting MUCH worse from the description.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 8:48AM
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guvnah- I didn't post the scary pictures! But on the surface it does look like it just needs cosmetic work. We were on board for that- we got spooked when we found out about the roof, the siding, the a/c, the furnace, the water damage and mold and the leaning not properly built back deck! It is all the stuff you can't see that costs a lot of money. Those are not fun things to buy. It is much more fun making things pretty.

In any case, we are in negotiations. They've come down a lot but there's a ways to go.

To those that have lived through a major rehab of an older house- how did you do it? Would we just set up camp in the dining room and keep all our furniture in storage? Unfortunately we are not in a position to manage two large mortgages so we'd have to live in the new house for much of the renovation.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 10:07AM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance Zone 9b

We did live in one house while the contractors renovated the one we now live in.

It would be hard to live in the house while the renovation goes on. Some people rent or buy an RV or trailer to stay in during reno.

It's important to watch everything the workers do because the contractor is usually running other jobs at the same time and they let the workers work while they go elsewhere. You need to supervise for sure.

We found it really uncomfortable to come here during reno, so we finally put up a coffee table and a couple chairs. It was March and cold, so we also brought an electric floor heater. One burner in the kitchen worked, so I brought a pan to boil water for tea in.... An on site trailer would have been so nice.

They started in March and we moved in mid June. They still weren't finished.

Expect high electric bills. Those power tools take electricity!

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 10:24AM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance Zone 9b

I wish I could explain all we did here. Entire house painted inside and out. AC units replaced. New vents installed. Fireplace chimneys swept and problems fixed.

There are 3 wood decks, and all were so rotten that they needed to be rebuilt. NOT CHEAP! But now, we love them....

We kept the master tile, which has scattered beige/green flowers in it, but there was so much tile. It would have cost a fortune to replace it all. I couldn't deal with pink, though.

We kept all the wood bathroom cabinets, but painted them all white. Those near the shower/tub had water damage.

The kitchen had a complete redo.

OH, did I mention the master ceiling was mirrored? That had to come down.......... Then replaster, etc.

We replaced every door in this house except we painted the front one brown. So much water and sun damage could not be stained. We just loved the doors and kept them.

Now that the house is done, we are working on landscaping and the money flows out.........

But we ended up with a beautiful home and we are proud to entertain friends here.

Good luck to you!

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 10:37AM
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We renovated every room except for two bedrooms in a home once. We put all the furniture in storage except for a mattress on the floor, some clothing and toiletries. We knocked out a 35 foot section of the back wall in the great room went out 10 feet, vaulted the ceiling and put in 3 X 6 glass panes across. We put in hardwood flooring throughout and custom stained it. We had to crawl out the bedroom window and walk around the house and crawl in another window to use the bathroom while the stain and poly cured.

Would we do it again. No, Are we glad I did? Yes, definitely.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 2:05PM
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belle_va -- if you are in negotiations and they have come down, what is the approach you decided to try?

Maybe I missed it, but did you end up writing a letter, or making a full offer, or a reduced offer?


    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 2:58PM
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i did not get the chance to write my effusive letter. after the eye opening return visit, the disrepair kind of overshadowed everything else. i did have the opportunity to say how lovely the home is and how honored i would be to rehabilitate the gardens, if given the chance. but also that the total investment (repairs, updates & purchase price) needed to equal fair market value. the area is economically challenged so it would be downright foolish to not acknowledge the market conditions.

there are some odd personalities in this story and i am trying to juggle them all with grace and good humor. our realtor is sweet as molasses but not very proactive or assertive. she is adamantly opposed to us buying the house- in fact this has set up a kind of adversarial relationship between us and i am now just basically dealing with the listing agent and the owner's son.

i have a feeling it isn't going to work out, which is okay. i am sentimental and emotional but i have a strong practical streak too. if the numbers don't work i can walk away. i don't like financial stress and don't want to be stretched thin.

i will let you guys know the final outcome.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2014 at 11:36PM
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Thanks for coming back and letting us know how you are doing in negotiations. Just remember, any costs you have figured out for all the renovations will be more then what you figured. There will always be something hidden that you did not see or cost of materials can go up etc. So just be prepared. Best wishes to you. We have always lived in older homes. And by "older" I mean 100+ years. We are DIY'ers and have done just about everything you can think of(with the exception of electrical. I always hire a pro for that). And we love to garden too so I can understand your wanting to bring back the gardens in this house. NancyLouise

    Bookmark   August 11, 2014 at 8:04AM
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Wow, a realtor that doesn't want a deal to close. That's a new one. :-)

    Bookmark   August 11, 2014 at 10:18AM
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When we sold our first home, we received a heartfelt letter on why a certain couple wanted to purchase our home. Unfortunately, someone else came in with a higher offer. Even though I felt for the couple, we obviously went with the higher offer. Most sellers will just choose top dollar... its just numbers on paper... never really think of the people behind the numbers.

That said though, if there aren't any other offers on the house, a nice letter might pull on the son's heartstrings a little and he may feel compelled to go for your lower bid!

    Bookmark   August 11, 2014 at 11:24PM
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Sold my home last year on the first day... with 5 offers, three over asking price. This in a very modest area, and my asking price quite a bit higher than all recent sales. It was a 60 yo, pretty, moderately updated ranch, in very good condition... with a gorgeous garden I personally installed on hands and knees over a ten year period. The garden sold the house!

Two offers came with letters. One, from a single man, who fell overwhelmingly in love with the garden. He knew nothing about gardening, but wanted to learn. The other, from a recently divorced woman, who had suffered the loss of a child. She walked into the garden and told the agent it was the first she felt at peace since her loss. The lady 'won' the house. She has worked long and hard keeping the garden up and loving it as did I. So letters can help.

But keep in mind... if you truly love playing in the dirt, you can create your own personal paradise anywhere. I did it from age 59-69, as a single woman. Better to find a home in decent condition and focus your efforts outside, where it seems you wish to be. Don't allow emotions to overtake your common sense! Right now you are seeking the best business deal. It is a 'house'... only becoming your 'home' when you gain possession of the keys.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2014 at 11:33AM
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I want to update everyone especially because your comments and suggestions have been so appreciated. It touches my heart the way total strangers freely give thoughtful advice on Gardenweb.

And the outcome of this story should give all house shoppers everywhere hope and maybe a few chills.

We did not get Peggy's house. The why and the various problems with the deal and the communication between our crappy realtor and the listing agent do not matter. We didn't get the house.

I cried. I threw tantrums. I gave my husband the silent treatment for a week. I threw my arms up and said 'ok, that's it. I guess we can't move. We've run out of time.'--- I am on a strict timeline because plants have to be dug up and moved before cold weather sets in.

I was so bummed. We ditched the realtor.

Then... Thursday... a house appeared on mls... on my absolute favorite street in the new city in the very best of neighborhoods... recently renovated at a very high end level with great finishes almost all of which I would have chosen myself. We called the listing agent directly and saw the house Saturday. First people to see it. Met the owner- a wonderful elderly lady who loves the home so much she was in tears about selling it. Her husband (who was a professor at the same University where my husband teaches) passed away and she has health and mobility issues and no family in this town and needs to move near her children.

Gardens are glorious... need work but like Peggy's house the structure is there. Very private lot. Floorplan is a dream for how we actually live and use a house. Yard already fenced for our dogs. Truly I could not have imagined a more perfect house.

We made an almost full price offer right then and there. (Because we thought the price was fair and we can afford it.) Accepted. Closing set.

All of this happened I believe because we were able to meet the owner and tell her about us and assure her that we would care for the home and gardens. I know this is not the norm in real estate transactions but I really think the human dimension matters.

I am still shaking. I can't believe this all happened so quickly. I am pinching myself. It doesn't feel real!

    Bookmark   August 17, 2014 at 12:19PM
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Congratulations, how serendipitous! The new house sounds perfect and I'm sure meeting you helped ease the pain of leaving it for her. Pictures, please?

    Bookmark   August 17, 2014 at 7:07PM
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Belle, congratulations. There was a reason the other house wasn't meant to be, and this was it.

I'm pleased for the owner (current) too. It must be comforting to her to know her years there will be appreciated and valued. I hope you'll get her new address and send her an occasional card or photo while you can. your generosity would likely make this transition easier for her....just of nothing you've changed too dramatically :)

And again, its nice you have the right house and can soon be settled. We like happy endings.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2014 at 7:44PM
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This is an absolutely perfect ending. So glad you werenâÂÂt tied up with an offer on the other house when this came along. Congratulations!

    Bookmark   August 17, 2014 at 8:56PM
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Great news! Seems almost like a miracle and I am truly happy for you. I think the PO will have more peace selling her house knowing that what was important to her and her late husband is important to you. Well done!

    Bookmark   August 17, 2014 at 10:06PM
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Congratulations! The house sounds perfect. I bet you can't wait to get at those gardens. Enjoy your new home! NancyLouise

    Bookmark   August 18, 2014 at 6:02AM
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These kind of stories are what reinforce to me that everything happens for a reason. The ordeal you went through for the other home, it prepared you to be ready for this :-) What an exciting turnaround, so happy for you!

    Bookmark   August 18, 2014 at 12:12PM
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I love a happy ending.

Old, neglected gardens with fabulous bones are so tempting to many of us, but those gardens would have been a handful to maintain. You don't give your age (a lady doesn't) but as we age, I am discovering, gardens become more difficult to care for. I am trying to scale back and redesign what I have planted at an earlier age.

Things definitely worked out for the best.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 1:07AM
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Had to come find this thread for the update after seeing the post about selling the current home. It really does seem meant to be and I'm so happy it worked out as it did for both you and the seller of your new home. Glad you changed agents too.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2014 at 11:57PM
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