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Explain Fair Housing Before Buyers Write Letters to Sellers

A letter phrase like “my kids running down the stairs on Christmas morning” includes two protected classes under the Fair Housing Act – religion and familial status.

CHICAGO – Buyers send love letters about a listing to sellers hoping to win their heart – and to have their offer accepted for the home. But while love letters can make a bid stand out – especially in hot markets with low inventory and bidding wars – they can also raise fair housing concerns and open real estate professionals and their clients to fair housing violations, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR)’s latest Fair Housing Corner.

To entice a seller to choose their offer, buyers sometimes write “love letters” to describe the many reasons why a seller should pick their offer. While it seems harmless, the letters can pose fair housing risks because they often contain personal information and reveal characteristics of the buyer, such as race, religion or familial status. The seller could then use that information, even unknowingly or through unconscious bias, as an unlawful basis for their decision to accept or reject an offer.

An example: A hopeful buyer writes the seller a love letter saying they can “picture their children running down the stairs on Christmas morning for years to come.” 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.

Using protected characteristics as a basis to accept or reject an offer, as opposed to price and terms, would violate the Fair Housing Act.

NAR recommendations to avoid love-letter fair housing violations

  • Educate clients about the fair housing laws – and the pitfalls of buyer love letters
  • Tell clients that you won’t deliver buyer love letters
  • State in the MLS listing that no buyer love letters will be accepted
  • Remind sellers that a decision to accept or reject an offer should be based on objective criteria only
  • If a buyer client insists on drafting a love letter, don’t help them write or deliver it
  • Avoid reading any love letter written or received by a client
  • Document all offers received and the seller’s objective reason for accepting an offer

Source: National Association of Realtors® (NAR)

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