Buyer Love Letters May Violate Fair Housing Laws
“As seen in the Real Estate Reality Column in the San Leandro Times & Castro Valley Forum, written by Carl Medford”
Added to offers by buyers hoping to tug on a seller’s heartstrings and win in multiple offer situations, “Buyer Love Letters” have become commonplace. These letters frequently provide details about the buyers and list the reasons they would love to own the home in question.
Problem: they could constitute a violation of our nation’s fair housing laws.
At the heart of the issue is the potential for discrimination based on a letter’s contents. HUD’s website* states, “It is illegal to discriminate in the sale or rental of housing, including against individuals seeking a mortgage or housing assistance, or in other housing-related activities. The Fair Housing Act prohibits this discrimination because of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability.”
In other words, a seller cannot decide who does or does not get to buy their home based on any of the characteristics included in the fair housing laws. Yet many buyer letters not only provide personal information, they include pictures clearly portraying sex, race, familial status and even, in some cases, religious orientation or even disabilities.
As an example, if it can be determined that, from a pool of equally qualified buyers, a seller chooses a young family to purchase their home and excludes a single person’s offer based on a desire to have a family occupy their home, then it is reasonable to suggest that fair housing laws have been violated.
The issue is twofold. First, a buyer IS allowed to write a letter stating what they like about the home on which they are writing an offer. They should NOT include personal details that could be construed as attempting to sway a seller based on any of the forbidden fair housing criteria.
Second, a seller is not allowed to decide on who buys their home based on any criteria other than financial ability. They cannot, as an example, reject a buyer based on race. When receiving a buyer letter with an offer package, the listing agent, on behalf of the seller, should consider whether the buyer’s letter constitutes a violation of the fair housing laws and possibly exclude the letter from the package.
It is a tricky issue. While buyers want their letter to separate them from the rest of the pack, sellers must be very careful they do not base their decision on any criteria that could be construed as a violation of the law.
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.