Can Buyer “Love Letters” Actually be a Liability?
In today’s competitive housing market, buyers are feeling the pressure to stand out. Besides leading with their strongest offer, some buyers choose to write personal letters to tug at a seller’s heartstrings and explain why their offer should be accepted.
While these letters seem harmless and are only intended to give the buyer a leg up, the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) says they may “actually raise fair housing concerns and could open real estate professionals and their clients to fair housing violations.”
What is a buyer “love letter?”
Real estate is an emotional business, and a buyer letter — referred to in the industry as a buyer “love letter” — can definitely appeal to a seller’s emotional side.
By explaining how the home perfectly fits your family’s needs, telling the seller how the home would be taken care of or restored, complementing the seller on particular features of the property, or explaining how you share a common bond (pets, sports, etc), you create a personal connection that may help give you a competitive edge.
There is a reason that buyers and their agents have used these letters for years – in multiple-offer situations they have been the key to tipping the scales in a buyer’s favor.
While it’s not against the law for a buyer to include a personal letter with their offer, REALTORS® have been shying away from the practice because of potential discrimination concerns.
Why they pose a problem
The federal Fair Housing Act makes it illegal for home sellers, real estate agents and other housing-related service providers to discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, family status, or disability. As of earlier this year, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced it will also “administer and enforce the Fair Housing Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.”
NAR explains that buyer “love 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.”
As an example, NAR says, “consider where a potential buyer writes to the seller that they can picture their children running down the stairs on Christmas morning for years to come in the house.” The association explains, “this statement not only reveals the potential buyer’s familial status, but also their religion, both of which are protected characteristics under fair housing laws.”
If a seller accepts or rejects the offer based on that information alone, it would be a violation of the Fair Housing Act. And a seller who discriminates against a buyer – knowingly or unknowingly -- could face financial penalties if the buyer files a successful fair housing complaint or lawsuit.
How to avoid the problem?
First, it’s important that both buyers and sellers work with an experienced, local REALTOR® who will educate them about fair housing laws and the potential pitfalls of writing or accepting buyer letters.
NAR also says sellers should remember that “their decision to accept or reject an offer should be based on objective criteria only,” including the merits of the offer (price and terms), the likeliness of the sale to close, and the financial strength of the buyer.
Instead of focusing on an emotional “love letter,” buyers should concentrate on putting together a strong and attractive offer. Buyers can help set themselves up for success by securing a pre-approval letter from a reputable, local lender; submitting an adequate earnest money deposit; and writing as clean an offer as possible. By working with an experienced REALTOR® you will also get advice on how to write your offer in a way that meets the seller’s needs and stands out from the competition.
For a list of area REALTORS® and lenders, visit the Greater Lansing Association of REALTORS® website at www.lansing-realestate.com.