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Buyer Love Letters May Be Inciting Discrimination

Buyer Love Letters May Be Inciting Discrimination

“As seen in the Real Estate Reality Column in the San Leandro Times & Castro Valley Forum, written by Carl Medford”

Seated at a table with an elderly couple, I was discussing the details involved in selling their house. It was clear they loved their home and, although they knew that relocating closer to family was the right choice, it was going to be difficult to leave the home they had cherished for so many years.

“We raised our family here,” the wife stated, “Every inch of this home is filled with delightful memories.” The husband nodded, and then, grasping his wife’s hand, looked at her and stated, “We really want a young family to get this home so they can have the same experiences we’ve had.”

I have lost count of the number of times I have heard this sentiment from older sellers who want to pass their home to younger generations. Potential buyers, aware of this sentiment, are eager to convey to sellers their willingness to carry on a family-oriented tradition. The vehicle they choose to communicate their sentiments is the ubiquitous “love letter.”

A staple accompaniment of offers for years, these letters often include pictures of young couples, children and even pets. The joy-filled faces peering out from the pages are hoping their carefully crafted communication will win the hearts of the sellers and get their offer accepted. The letters work: I have watched sellers read the letters and accept offers based not on the price or terms but the content of the letters and the individuals portrayed therein.

While these letters seem warm and fuzzy, and have been an accepted practice for years, they can be construed as a violation of our nation’s fair housing laws. According to the Fair Housing Act, sellers, when choosing an offer, should be impartial to a potential buyer’s race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status or national origin. In other words, if sellers, based on their preferences, choose a family over others equally or better qualified, then they have discriminated against other potential buyers.

The problem with “love letters” is that the pictures clearly communicate a buyer’s characteristics, making it easy for sellers to discriminate. Intentional or not, if the decision to accept a specific offer is based upon the attached letter, the sellers may be guilty of violating the law. Consequently, with society’s ever-increasing sensitivity to fair housing laws, attaching love letters to offers is a custom coming under increasing scrutiny, and may be a practice to abandon going forward.

Carl Medford is a licensed Realtor with Keller Williams Realty and a licensed general contractor. This article is sponsored by the Central County Marketing Association.

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