Story creeps its way into every aspect of our lives – sometimes without even being noticed. Story is such a natural part of how we, as humans, communicate: through conversations, advertisements, news, college essays, entertainment, you name it. So it seems natural that the more we come to understand the power of story, the stronger we become in every aspect of life.
Too dramatic? Maybe.
All I know is that the more I learn about story, the more empowered I feel. More empowered to catch when an advertisement is trying to manipulate my emotions. More empowered to connect in my relationships, or connect with my audience. And even, as you may have guessed by the title of this blog, more empowered to buy a house.
Not just any house, though.
This house captured my heart. I loved it. My husband loved it. And so did a dozen other couples. Yes. A dozen. As in 12. As in there were 13 total offers on this house that I had prematurely grown much too attached to.
Now I must give credit to our realtor, who was our perfect guide in this house-hunting journey. He kept it real. He didn’t sugarcoat anything. He was in our corner to help us make a competitive offer.
His advice? Write a story.
He knew that the sellers might connect more with us as people than a lengthy document. Now don’t get me wrong – numbers don’t lie – and have a lot of power in buying and selling situations. But emotions don’t lie, either. You might have a seller who does not care who ends up being in their old home. But chances are, the seller will appreciate knowing about the people behind the offer. To imagine their home going to someone they connected with. Hoping the future family might enjoy the house as they did. We knew this much – a story couldn’t hurt our chances.
I already knew exactly what I would write. The truth. And it was the easiest thing I’ve ever written. I knew I wanted to connect with them as fellow UNC fans (Go Heels!). I’d seen artwork of cats on their walls and thought, man, these are my kind of people. Miniature furniture around their home and a decorated nursery told me they had a small child. We wanted to start a family. I would use these clues that helped me to fall in love with their home to help them fall in love with us.
I know what some of you are thinking. Manipulative, much? And I say to you, in the wise words of Spiderman’s uncle, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
It’s true that story can be, and has been, used to manipulate people. It is actually one of the selling features of using story. When a business leader hears “connect with your audience,” they might be actually hearing “manipulate your customers into buying things they don’t need.” Marketing as a whole can be seen as a big fat manipulation. But it doesn’t have to be!
Consider this: do you trust your storyteller? If you do, then rest easy. Feel assured that, though they have the power to manipulate you for evil, they won’t. They are actually trying to connect, to communicate, by using the world’s most effective form of communication.
To the storytellers out there: are you trustworthy? Are you pulling on heartstrings to shame people into giving you money? (I’m talking to you, Sarah McLachlan, and your “Arms of an Angel” music with the sad kittens.) Audiences are smart. They can smell phonies from miles away. But even if they can’t sniff you out – are you using your power with integrity? You should be.
Back to my awesome house-buying experience.
I wrote a short letter to the sellers. And, you guessed it, I used story to describe my (absolutely true) experience of connecting with their home. We had no certainty that the sellers would even look at the various offer letters, and for all we know, they may not have.
But we got the house.
Against twelve other offers. In a market where only a handful of houses were listed in our price range and houses were selling within hours of being listed.
We got the house.
As first time buyers with no experience and an awesome realtor on our side.
We got the house.
What a happy day it was when I got the call from our realtor saying our offer was accepted. I was cheesin so hard, y’all. My husband had been trying to lower my expectations, since we had a mere 7.7 percent chance of a happy outcome. “Don’t get your hopes up,” he’d tell me. “Too late!” I’d keep saying back. My heart was so invested in this sweet home, and we could not be happier to be living there now.
The day we closed, we found a letter from the seller on the kitchen counter. It was the story of the day they closed on the house, when they found a salt and pepper shaker on the window sill in the kitchen. They wondered what this salt and pepper shaker had seen over the years. They wrote about how they chose to keep the memory displayed on that window sill. About how special the house was to them. How they hoped we would be as blessed there as they were. They left the salt and pepper shaker there for us, the next family to make this house a home, to wish us well.
Obviously, I cried the ugly tears. Their story touched my heart, just as their home had. I mean, who cries over salt and pepper shakers? Apparently I do. But it was their story and gesture of kindness that had me well up with waterworks.
Story works. Story connects. Story empowers. Story makes you cry sometimes. Story is sweet. Use it for good!
My letter to our sellers:
The first thing that caught my eye when I saw your property online was your grill cover. My heart filled with happiness as I shouted across the room, “honey, they’re UNC fans!” Off to a good start, I thought. A quick pass through rest of the photos proved that my initial hunch was right. This place was special.
The next day I couldn’t resist driving by your neighborhood to see this property that I was quickly falling in love with. After work, I took a detour home. I saw the cutest homes in a quaint area that reminded me of my childhood. I loved the character and uniqueness of each home. I called my husband and told him of my affections for the neighborhood and of course, your house.
As my husband and I continued our online search, I kept coming back to your house to look through the photos again and again. I had already begun imagining our life there. Where our furniture might go. How our family might one day grow perfectly in this sweet home.
Even as we walked up the driveway, I knew I was a gonner. With every exploratory step I fell harder. I could so easily picture our family there — our cats looking out the many windows, our future children playing in the backyard. Each discovery confirmed what I already knew.
My husband and I met during our undergrad at UNC. We married last April and are looking for our forever home. We think we found it. Here’s to hoping we’re right.
Best Wishes and Go Heels!
Chelsey and Tom