If you’ve so much as dipped your toe into the real estate market the past couple of summers, you know the water in some spots is really, really hot. More than a quarter of homes nationally sold above the asking price in June, according to real estate brokerage Redfin, and homes were on the market for a median of just 36 days.

In some areas, they’re selling even faster. In Boston, homes flew off the market in nine days. In Denver, Portland, Ore., and Seattle, the median listing lasted only a week. That means for every listing that took two weeks to sell, there was one that went under contract in a single day. “For buyers competing in this market, it’s survival of the fittest,” said Redfin chief economist Nela Richardson.

In areas where bidding wars and cash buyers are commonplace, how can a first-time home buyer hope to compete? One simple way to make your offer stand out amid the noise is to write a personal letter to the seller, explaining why you love their home – and why you’d be the perfect buyer.

“Many times it works to send a letter with the offer, trying to appeal to the emotions of the seller,” says Jorge Colon, program manager at The Homebuying Mentors, a program of the nonprofit Allston-Brighton Development Corp. in Boston. “Because basically sellers are attached to the property if they’re living there, and it’s helpful to explain why you want to buy that house and build a life there, maybe start a family there. It’s an emotional thing.”

“If you’re in a multiple bid situation, is it important to have a letter? I usually say it can’t hurt, for the most part,” says Marie Presti, owner/broker at the Presti Group in Newton, Mass. “But if you do decide to write a letter, make sure it’s customized for that house and that market – do not use a generic one,” she adds. “You need to specifically talk about what you like about that house.”

Presti remembers a house where she could tell the sellers were outdoorsy types by the photos on the walls and the kayak in the basement. “So the buyers wrote a really nice letter, and also said they loved to go biking and hiking, and they loved that the house was on the edge of some conservation land where there were trails across the street,” she says. “And that really helped the sellers connect with them. Bottom line, you still need the right offer, but it can really help.”