This story by ProPublica reportersAnjeanette Damon,Byard DuncanUMolly Simonrepublished with permission. Their researchoriginally published here.
HomeVestors of America, the Dallas-based company behind the "Ugly Houses We Buy" ad, says it's helping people.
Sometimes the owner is helped by the quick profit that franchises offer in exchange for a property well below market value.
But oneProPublica researchfound that the types of homes targeted by HomeVestors franchises often belong to people in vulnerable situations, robbing most Americans of what is their greatest asset. To make matters worse, the aggressive legal tactics used by HomeVestors franchises can trap homeowners in the business or cost them thousands of dollars to settle.
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In a statement, a spokesperson for HomeVestors said the purchases covered by the ProPublica reports represent a small fraction of the more than 71,400 homes purchased by its franchisees since 2016, or socioeconomic status,” the company said. It has removed several franchises from its system and, in light of our report, is investigating the cases to "determine appropriate action."
Over the past year, ProPublica has interviewed dozens of people who have sold a HomeVestors franchise. Some seemed satisfied with the experience and opted for convenience or speed rather than getting full market value for their home. Others, however, regretted calling the number from the HomeVestors ad.
Here are five of their stories.
Pennee Nichols tried to keep the Arizona mountain home she inherited from her mother. The house had belonged to her family for decades and she planned to move there after her partner retired. But when he died, the maintenance and taxes became too much. So at the end of 2017, she called the number she saw on a HomeVestors TV commercial.
The house - a converted trailer from the 1960s - was in disrepair. But the town of Heber-Overgaard is a popular place for holiday cabins, and the property was dotted with pine and spruce trees. Nichols thought it might fetch about $50,000.
When Jayson Ellingson, owner of the HomeVestors Jaycorp franchise, showed up, he told Nichols that the house was in such bad shape that it would have to be torn down and rebuilt. His offer was $10,000. She could take it or leave it, but he doubted anyone else would buy it as it was.
"He actually convinced me it was bullshit," Nichols said. "I knew in my heart that I was totally screwed, but I took the deal."
Ellingson didn't bulldoze the house. He sold it six months later for $55,000 without any repairs.
In an interview, Ellingson told ProPublica that he was honest about his intention to buy the property below market value. He said he gave Nichols time to think. And after he bought the house, he said, he was lucky to find a buyer who had money and wanted to fix it up.
"This lady may be bitter about the fact that I bought it for $10,000 and sold it for $55,000," Ellingson said. "I made $45,000. I didn't expect that to happen with that contract."
Ellingson left HomeVestors in 2021. He said the franchise model wasn't for him.
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In 2019, Maria Jimenez felt under siege. Jimenez, seventy-two years old and in poor health, had a hoarding problem that drew the attention of code enforcement officials in Camarillo, California. She bought her house in 1981 with her late husband and worked two jobs to pay the mortgage. She raised her children there and taught them to work hard and play by the rules. Now city inspectors have started issuing her subpoenas.
When she called the phone number on the HomeVestors ad, she reached Patriot Holdings, a successful franchise run by brothers Cody, Chris, Casey and Cory Evans with their partner Scott Mansfield.
"I need help," she told the person on the phone.
Cory Evans arrived the next morning. According to court documents, he told her if you sell to me, I'll clean the house and the foreclosure will go away. If you don't, the city will come with its trucks, grab your stuff, and foreclose on your house. Although this was not true, it scared Jimenez into signing the purchase agreement on the spot.
The next day a social worker arrived to help with the code violation. She assured Jimenez that the city wouldn't take her home and taught her about programs to help seniors clean up after themselves.
But after Jimenez tried to cancel the sale, Evans sued her for breach of contract. In arbitration, Patriot Holdings sought $150,000 to release its claim on the house, Maria's daughter, Patsy Jimenez, said. The stress took its toll on Maria Jimenez, who suffered a mild stroke, Patsy said.
Meanwhile, detectives in Ventura County took an interest in the case. After finding another elderly victim who Evans had pressured into selling her home, prosecutors charged Evans with attempted grand larceny and attempted robbery of an elderly man. He pleaded guilty to two counts of grand larceny, dropped his charges against Jimenez and served time on probation. His conviction was later overturned under California law.
Jimenez saved her home, but the trauma of that experience continues, her daughter said. 'He feels guilty. And I say, 'Mom,vaswere a victim.'”
Neither Evans nor the franchise responded to requests for comment. A spokesman for HomeVestors headquarters said Cory Evans is no longer associated with the franchise.
"We are not aware of any complaints since the removal of Cory Evans from the franchise," the company said.
A year after Evans pleaded guilty, he and his brothers received an award from HomeVestors in recognition of their "highest sales volume."
About how the HomeVestors Revolution Holdings franchise representative ended up in Deanna Merriman's apartment in St. Petersburg in July 2020 remains up for discussion. Merriman, normally a prolific journalist, wrote at the time that he knocked on her door to see if anyone was interested in selling the apartment. She sent him on his way, but he returned the next month, she wrote.
Britton Briscoe, who owns the franchise through a separate LLC, said his records show Merriman was called HomeVestors.
Merriman moved to Florida from Erie, Pa., to be closer to his family. But after several angry arguments with her grown children, Merriman decided she wanted to return to Erie and talked to a representative of Revolution Holdings about selling her condo.
"I told him the only way I would sell mine was if the seller bought me a house in Erie, PA," she wrote.
After showing her pictures of homes in Erie and getting an estimate for moving her belongings, the sales representative brought paperwork to Merriman to sign.
At the time, Merriman, who was 83, was suffering from blackouts and anxiety attacks and was taking several medications, including one that caused brain fog.
Merriman wrote in her journal that she thought she was initialing the papers that the representative would use to sign the contract. It turned out to be the real deal, selling her apartment for $61,000 — half of what comparable units in the building were selling for.
Briscoe said in a statement that Revolution Holdings tried to help Merriman close on the Erie home and provided her with several explainer videos. He said one of her adult sons was involved in the arguments. No one mentioned Merriman's medical condition, Briscoe said. He attributed the low retail price to the fact that its walls are "coated with nicotine".
Not knowing that she had signed a contract with a HomeVestors franchise, Merriman decided she no longer wanted to sell her Florida condo and stopped communicating with Revolution Holdings.
After she kept quiet, Revolution Holdings threatened to take her to court and learned of a dispute over the ownership of her property to prevent her from selling it to anyone else. Briscoe told ProPublica to return his deposit. According to the contract, the deposit was 100 dollars.
Distraught, Merriman fought to cancel the sale, but did not live long enough to see it resolved. "She definitely died thinking her house was going to be taken from her and she was going to be put out on the street somewhere," said her daughter-in-law Amy Bonnell.
When the property went into easement, Briscoe demanded money to get rid of his lien on the property. Bonnell and her husband paid him $9,512 after selling the apartment last year for $160,000.
In response to questions from ProPublica about the business practice, HomeVestors said it will no longer allow franchises to document homeowners' titles as Briscoe did with Merriman, because of the impact it has on sellers.
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Ira Reiner spent the last days of his life fighting a lawsuit against Florida-based Hi-Land Properties, a frequent HomeVestor "Franchise of the Year" winner.
In late 2020, Reiner's health was deteriorating, his income had dried up due to the pandemic, and he and his grown son Douglas had to find cheaper housing. Reiner's apartment in Delray Beach, Fla., needed major repairs and cleaning, so Reiner told his son to call the number on the HomeVestors ad.
Reiner signed a contract to sell the apartment to Hi-Land for $80,000, a price he knew was low but not unreasonable given its condition. Problems arose when he could not quickly find a new place to live.
After Reiner missed the first closing date, Hi-Land told him he could rent the apartment back for a few months while he looked for a new place to live and gave him a $4,000 cash advance on the sale. But the homeowners association wouldn't allow the rental, and after a disagreement over who would pay his mortgage, taxes and pre-closing fees, Reiner decided he wanted out of the business.
In a court document, Reiner said he called Hi-Land to cancel the sale. Don Cameron, the owner of Hi-Land, said Reiner stopped communicating with him completely in August 2021. That's when Cameron decided to file a lawsuit.
“Given the circumstances, and especially given that we had already paid $4,000 to purchase the condo, we had no choice but to file a lawsuit in hopes of reopening communication and resolving this issue. Cameron said.
By then, Reiner could no longer walk and was bedridden, he told ProPublica. The only way he could leave the apartment was by ambulance. From the hospital, he tried to challenge Hi-Land's lawsuit by sending a handwritten document to the judge, but it was rejected because he didn't follow the filing rules.
Speaking to ProPublica in September, Reiner said he was awaiting an eviction notice.
- I will be homeless - said Reiner. 'I'm waiting for a call. Even if I win the case, I'm so behind I don't know if I can catch up."
Reiner died in February at the age of 80.
His son, Douglas Reiner, stayed in the apartment until a judge entered a default judgment in Hi-Land's favor. Douglas said Hi-Land paid him $500 and expected another $2,000. He said he plans to live in his van.
At age 83, Martha Swanson struggled to maintain the large yard that surrounds her brick bungalow in Marietta, Georgia. For months, she had received steady requests to sell her home in the historic town 20 miles north of Atlanta. So one day near the beginning of 2018, she called the number on the HomeVestors ad.
Keith Gereghty, a visiting franchisee, made an offer of $82,211 - an amount that Swanson's daughter, Sherry Nixon, considered extremely low based on the market.
As soon as Nixon, who lives in Montana, heard her mother wanted to sell, she started looking for a realtor. But it was too late: her mother signed Gereghty's contract. When Nixon called Gereghty to complain about the low price, she said, Gereghty told her, "That's all I can do." Your mother agreed.
"My mother had a series of small strokes," Nixon said. "And she really isn't capable of making those kinds of decisions well."
"Well, if she's so bad," Nixon recalls Gereghty replying, "why doesn't she live with you?"
Gereghty denied the comment, saying he never saw Swanson show any signs of impairment. He said he gave Swanson more than a week to review the contract with his children and would have released her from the contract if she had asked. However, he also included a notice of impending sale on her title shortly after she signed the contract, tying her to the contract.
"It was never my intention to cause trouble for Mrs. Swanson or her family," Gereghty said, also noting that he has never sued anyone for abandoning the sale, as other franchises have done.
Gereghty never took ownership. Instead, he sold the contract to another investor for a profit - a practice known as wholesale trading. That investor sold the property for $171,000. Nixon recalled seeing a house with a broken bookcase that the sellers didn't bother to remove.
"I thought, 'Well, they're going to fix the house — who knows how much it would cost?' she said. "They didn't do anything. Nothing."
Until her death three years later, Swanson worried about money and how she was going to pay the $3,000 a month her nursing home cost, her daughter said.
"It's just not ethical," Nixon said. “My mother was a sweet, elderly little lady. Southern lady - very religious, really saw the good in people and felt like Keith was her friend.
Why am I getting unsolicited offers to buy my house? ›
Homebuyers will sometimes partner with real estate agents to send unsolicited offers to homeowners to try and make an off-market deal. This type of deal is advantageous to homebuyers looking to avoid bidding wars in especially competitive markets.Why do people keep calling me to buy my house? ›
Petit says most of the calls are from real people looking to invest and flip. They get your name and address from public records and the auditor's office. It could be worth your time to explore if you're looking to sell or in a bind with your mortgage, but as with anything, there are red flags to look out for.How much less should you offer on a house when paying cash? ›
A good reason why you may want to offer below 5% is when you're paying with cash (although companies who offer sellers cash for their home will typically offer 65% below market price).How to market an ugly house? ›
- Focus on the Good. ...
- Utilize Social Media. ...
- Search for the Right Buyer. ...
- Make Simple, Cheap Repairs. ...
- Highlight Potential. ...
- Add Style and Staging. ...
- Share About the Area. ...
- Offer Incentives.
The National Do Not Call Registry was created to stop sales calls from real companies. It's free to register your home or mobile phone number.Why do I get letters from people wanting to buy my house? ›
In many cases, these letters are designed to let you know of someone's interest in purchasing your property. Most letters will explain that a client wants to buy your property. Although the rest of the actual letter may vary, it will generally express a desire to purchase your property along with proposed terms.How do you avoid being scammed by the we buy houses people? ›
Beware of anyone who asks you to sign over the title to your home based only on their promises to sell your property. If you're struggling to pay your mortgage, speak with your lender directly. If you're looking to buy or rent a home, never pay money upfront before signing a lease or contract.Why do companies keep trying to buy my house? ›
Most unsolicited offers come from investors (both large companies and individual people) looking for opportunities to make below-market purchases for resale profit.How do you know if someone is scamming you for a house? ›
- The listing photos have an MLS watermark.
- The listing details are vague.
- They don't want to show you the place first.
- They're ready to make a deal with no background info.
- They're out of the country.
- They want you to sign or pay right away.
- The asking rent doesn't match up.
Some real estate professionals suggest offering 1% – 3% more than the asking price to make the offer competitive, while others suggest simply offering a few thousand dollars more than the current highest bid.
What is the rule of thumb when making an offer on a home? ›
The rule of thumb is usually between 5 and 10 percent of the home price. Bear in mind that you could lose the money if the deal falls through, so it's important not to put up so much that you'd be ruined if you lost the cash.How to negotiate on an overpriced house? ›
- Hire an Experienced Real Estate Agent. ...
- Find Out if the Home Is Really Overpriced. ...
- Present Evidence to Show That the Home Is Overpriced. ...
- Know Your Seller. ...
- Make Your Offer as Appealing as Possible. ...
- Be Ready to Negotiate Back and Forth. ...
- Be Ready to Walk Away.
A home's value is affected by local real estate trends, the housing market, the home's condition, age, location and property size.What sells better an empty house or a staged house? ›
In general, a staged home will sell quicker than a non-staged home, and at a higher price too! 95% of staged homes sell in 11 days or less, and a staged home will sell for 17% more than a non-staged home.What makes house looks cheap? ›
- Matching flatpack furniture. (Image credit: Styling Katrin Cargill / photograph jan Baldwin) ...
- Inconsistent flooring. ...
- Too much clutter. ...
- Avoid overdoing chintz. ...
- Disproperitionate furniture. ...
- The wrong sized rug. ...
- Unlined curtains.
- Make a List of Necessary Improvements. ...
- Explain Any Issues with the Location. ...
- Provide Pricing for Comparable Homes in the Area. ...
- Consider the Seller's Reasons for Selling.
Businesses must follow rules around who they call, how they sell, and when they pick up the phone. But cold calling is definitely legal and with the right techniques, it can be an effective sales tool in your toolkit.How do I stop selling calls? ›
Simply text “TPS” and your email address to 85095 from your mobile phone. There is no charge to send a message to - or receive confirmation from - this number.Why am I getting so many texts about selling my house? ›
Sometimes realtors may struggle to find available homes to sell or may work on behalf of buyers who are having trouble finding available properties. These realtors might hire companies that distribute spam texts.Do letters to homeowners work? ›
The most effective letters focus on a potential buyer's connection to a specific aspect of the property. Letters make an impression on some sellers, but not everyone. Dolan said in his area, some sellers like to know that they're not selling their home to a developer who may knock it down and build something new.
Is it unethical to write a letter to a home seller? ›
It's not against the law for a home buyer to write a personal letter to the seller. But some buyer love letters can invite sellers to unwittingly violate fair housing laws.How can you tell a fake buyer? ›
- Asks for an overpayment refund on a check you just deposited. ...
- Wants you to wire them money for any reason. ...
- Unable or unwilling to provide references. ...
- The individual never asks to see the property in person. ...
- You can't find info about them via internet searches. ...
- No earnest money or deposit is offered.
- Advance Fee Scams. ...
- Tech Support Scams. ...
- Phishing. ...
- Emergency Scams. ...
- IRS or Government Imposter Scams. ...
- Foreign Money Exchange Scams. ...
- Counterfeit Cashier's Checks. ...
- Bogus Debts.
- Research public databases for further pieces of information about you.
- Get yet more personal information about you from online data brokers.
- Send you phishing attacks and scams by physical mail.
- Redirect your physical mail, essentially committing mail fraud.
John Malone is the largest private landowner in the United States. Malone made his fortune as a media tycoon, building the company Tele-Communications, Inc, or TCI, and acting as its CEO before selling it to AT&T for $50 billion in 1999.Why are investors buying up all the houses? ›
“Investors piled into the housing market in 2021 due to rock-bottom mortgage rates and surging housing demand, and are now retreating amid projections that home prices have room to fall,” the report said.Is home ownership on the decline? ›
That's one of the key takeaways in a new UC Berkeley research paper which chronicles the state's continued decline in homeownership among all age groups, especially younger adults. The state's homeownership rate for people aged 25 to 75 dropped to 43.5% in 2021, down from nearly 50% in 2000, the paper found.What are red flags of being scammed? ›
Be on the lookout for these red flags: Being asked to pay money in order to receive a prize or get a job. Pressure to act immediately. Use of scare tactics, e.g. telling you a loved one is in danger, that your computer has been hacked or threatening arrest if you don't act now.How do I make sure a seller is not a scammer? ›
- Always do the exchange in person. ...
- Cash is king. ...
- Ask a lot of questions. ...
- See if you can verify their identity. ...
- Beware of prices. ...
- Don't accept any excuses. ...
- Only buy from reputable sites. ...
- Always use tracking when selling.
- The Buyer's Interest in the Home. Knowing a cash buyer's purpose for wanting to purchase a home can determine whether they'll make a legitimate offer. ...
- Timing for Cash Transactions. ...
- One Point of Contact. ...
- Clear Terms for Fees. ...
- See the House Before Finalizing Offer.
What's the lowest you should offer on a house? ›
Typically, a lowball offer is considered to be at least 20% below the asking price. If you're offering 10% below, the property should be in a good condition but may just need some cosmetic work done. The goal of offering 10% below the asking price is to use those extra funds to cover the repairs.What makes a house worth more? ›
Age and condition. Typically, homes that are newer appraise at a higher value. The fact that critical parts of the house, like plumbing, electrical, the roof, and appliances are newer and therefore less likely to break down, can generate savings for a buyer.What is the best day to close on a house? ›
This delay in itself will not cost you extra money, but if the 3-day delay pushes the repayment of the old loan too close to the weekend, you could end up with a longer overlap in interest payments. You will ideally want to sign your documents on a Tuesday or Wednesday to avoid this issue.Is 3 months a long time for a house to be on the market? ›
The average time it takes to sell a house in California is 72 days — 37 days to get an offer and an additional 35 days to close. This is approximately 13.3% faster than the national average. Keep in mind that these are annual averages and the numbers will vary by month and/or season.Is it rude to offer less on a house? ›
A low offer may be upsetting to the sellers, but if you and your real estate agent present the offer along with an expression of your appreciation for the property, it's more likely to be accepted than a low offer accompanied by a half-complete contract or an insult about the property's condition.What's a strong offer on a house? ›
If you're ready to buy a home, you're probably wondering about how to write “a strong offer.” When we say “strong offer,” we're talking about writing the best offer – an offer that's going to have the best chance of getting chosen by the seller.How do you know if a house is too expensive? ›
- Your mortgage is more than 28% of your income. ...
- You worry about your property taxes. ...
- You can't keep up with maintenance. ...
- Your yard is a mess. ...
- You struggle with utility bills. ...
- You don't have an emergency fund. ...
- You keep busting your budget.
As a home buyer, you have every right to offer less than the asking price if you feel it's too high. On the other hand, the seller has every right to reject your offer, if they feel it's too low. So be sure to do your homework and tread carefully.What are the 5 rules of negotiation in real estate? ›
- Never act too excited. ...
- Knowledge is power; know your goals. ...
- Trust should be earned, not lost. ...
- Make them think that they're leading the show. ...
- Don't act like it's your last deal.
A home's framing is its skeleton. Because so much material and skilled labor is required, this is an incredibly expensive part of building a home. While framing may not be as expensive as the foundation or lot, it is typically more costly than other items.
At what age does a house start losing value? ›
If you haven't renovated your home in the past 30 years or so, it won't show well when you put it on the market. In other words, it won't get the same price as a similar home that's been maintained and updated.What are the best colors to sell a house? ›
When you're painting your house to sell, you'll want to stick with neutral or earthy tones, though you can choose white, beiges, greys, or even off-white colors. Depending on the room, you can even choose neutral shades of blue or green (like in the kitchen). You'll also want to avoid white in bathrooms.What type of house sells best? ›
Colonial. Colonial-style homes have the highest resale factor when all other elements are equal. These two-story homes that often have a boxlike appearance are popular because of the amount of functional living space that they often have.What room in house is most important when selling? ›
The rooms buyers most closely inspect (and judge) in a house are the kitchen and master bath. These are the interior spaces where the most value can be added during a sale, so they need to look their best.Do houses show better with or without furniture? ›
Shows off open space and home design
An unfurnished home can more effectively present the home's open spaces and architecture. Some buyers will appreciate seeing and imagining the full potential of the space through their own eyes rather than seeing other people's belongings cluttering up their vision.
Fresh Paint will make your Home look Expensive
Light airy neutral paint colors make a room look expensive. Choose from white, beige (yes beige is back!), cream and off-white colors. Dark brown and black are also on trend so will make your interiors look more upscale as well.
Sticking to a square or rectangular floor plan makes the building and design simple. Generally speaking, building up is cheaper than building a sprawling one-story home, so you may want to consider planning for a multiple-story home if you need more space.Why do I keep getting messages to buy my house? ›
While it isn't always a scam, if you receive a text message from a random number asking to buy your house, you should probably ignore it. Most of these texts are simply trying to get personal info from you, and trick you into sending funds or your bank account info.How do I stop unsolicited offers? ›
- Place your phone number on the national Do Not Call Registry.
- Block unwanted calls and texts on your cell phone. ...
- Tell companies who contact you to remove your information from their phone and mailing lists.
- Remove your address from direct mailing lists.
Sometimes realtors may struggle to find available homes to sell or may work on behalf of buyers who are having trouble finding available properties. These realtors might hire companies that distribute spam texts.
Can you decline offers on your house? ›
Rejecting an offer is entirely legal as long as you do it for the right reasons and with good intentions. There are many reasons that are legally acceptable, including low offers and concerns about the buyer's financial position.Why is everyone trying to sell their house? ›
More than 49% of people say that they want to move for career advancement opportunities. Relocation for work is the most common reason people sell homes. A person living in City A might consider moving to City B when an employer offers to pay them a significantly higher salary or let them work on exciting projects.Why do I keep getting unwanted messages? ›
Why am I getting spam text messages? Spam texts are both intrusive and pose a security threat. If you are getting spam texts, it's more than likely that whoever is sending you a spam text message is trying to get access to your personal information—bank accounts, passwords, social security number, online IDs and more.How do I stop receiving sales texts? ›
Put yourself on 'do not text' lists
If you're getting a lot of marketing calls and text messages, adding yourself to the Federal Trade Commission's Do Not Call Registry may help stop them, the security firm Norton says. If a marketer contacts you after 30 days on the list, you can report it to the FTC.
If you receive any unwanted email, the best approach in almost every case is to delete it immediately. It is often clear from the Subject line that a message is junk, so you may not even need to open the message to read it.Can a seller reject all offers? ›
Home sellers aren't obligated to accept any offer on their home—no matter how much money it's for. 1 There may be other offers on the table or, in some cases, they may want to hold out for more money. In those cases, a seller may reject an offer, even if it's at the asking price—or even above it.Why do sellers reject offers? ›
Your offer price may have been too low or too high, or they may have simply received a better offer. Other reasons could include the listing agreement commission structure, specific contract requirements, or personal reasons.How do you know if a seller is scamming you? ›
- The listing is only posted for a short duration. ...
- The seller doesn't have a long feedback history. ...
- The deal is heavily discounted or too good to be true. ...
- The seller requests that you contact them or pay for the goods outside of eBay.
Perhaps your home feels like an extension of who you are, so selling feels like letting go of a piece of your self-identity. In other cases, financial woes could make downsizing feel like failure, where it's hard to let go and agree to a deal.Why do people say text me when you get home? ›
So what we're saying when we say, "text me when you get home" is: I'm here for you, whether you're standing in front of me or miles away. Whenever you need me, whether it's because you're scared, heartbroken, or just bored, I will be there. It's a reminder that we have each other, even if nothing official binds us.
Can I refuse to sell to someone I don't like? ›
It is not always illegal to refuse to sell to a buyer, but there are a few instances where saying, "No, thank you," is not acceptable. Those reasons are if you're discriminating based on age, sex, religion, race, sexual orientation, disability, or any other discriminatory reason as outlined in the Fair Housing Act.How do you politely reject a house? ›
The right way to reject an offer. The proper way to give a buyer's agent the bad news is as follows: Promptly call, write or send a text message to the agent thanking him or her for the offer. Politely and graciously explain that the homesellers have accepted an offer that they like better.