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To entice a seller to choose their offer, buyers sometimes write “love letters” to describe the many reasons why the seller should “pick them,” but be careful, “Love Letters” create Fair Housing risks.
Buyer “love letters” are a tactic used by some buyers in an attempt to stand out to a seller, especially in hot markets with low inventory and bidding wars. Seemingly harmless, these letters actually raise fair housing concerns, and could open real estate professionals and their clients to fair housing violations. In this month’s Fair Housing Corner, learn how to protect yourself and your clients from the potential liability related to buyer love letters.
While this may seem harmless, these letters can actually pose fair housing risks because they often contain personal information and reveal characteristics of the buyer, such as race, religion, or familial status, which could then be used, knowingly or through unconscious bias, as an unlawful basis for a seller’s decision to accept or reject an offer.
Fair Housing laws require selling real estate to anyone who is qualified, regardless of an individual’s inclusion in any protected class, such as race, religion, or familial status.
While it is one thing for a buyer love letter to tell a seller how much they like a property because of its location, style, or characteristic of the home, these letters often get much more personal and include statements such as:
- “I can see our children celebrating Christmas here.”
- “My wife and I would love to raise our family in this house.”
- “I finally found a home that can accommodate my wheelchair after months of searching.”
- “We are so excited to send our children to the parochial school and church nearby.”
There is a nationwide concern that these personal information letters, which often contain details or photos of families, may violate the Fair Housing Act, as well as Article 10 of the REALTOR® Code of Ethics:
REALTORS® shall not deny equal professional services to any person for reasons of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity. REALTORS® shall not be parties to any plan or agreement to discriminate against a person or persons on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
As real estate professionals, you should be aware of the danger and potential liability with love letters, should discourage buyers from writing letters to sellers, and discourage sellers from accepting or reviewing letters to help promote Fair Housing.
Buyer agents should consider raising fair housing concerns with their buyer clients, and not read or accept love letters drafted by these clients. Listing agents should discuss potential liability during the listing interview and not accept or deliver a love letter to their seller clients.