At some point in our real estate career, we have submitted offers for our buyers that might have included a letter from the buyer to the seller. The letter was meant to tug at the heartstrings of the seller and explain why this buyer’s offer should be accepted. Without thinking, we as REALTORS® passed those letters on and never stopped to think of the potential damage that one letter could have. Well, that one letter most likely violated several Fair Housing laws.
On the surface, these love letters appear completely harmless and are only intended to give the buyer a leg up in a competitive market. However, these letters often reveal personal information about the buyer, such as race, religion, or familial status. This information, knowingly or not, could influence the seller to either reject or accept an offer on an unlawful basis.
I know when I was a new REALTOR® and going through training, having buyers write letters to the sellers was a commonly taught practice. Honestly, I do not remember being told to be careful about not breaking any Fair Housing Laws. We are taught in our salesperson training about the protected classes, steering, the Americans with Disability Act, and Fair Housing; but how many of us ACTUALLY understand the laws?
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. 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.
In the current market with multiple offers and dozens of showings, many buyers think that they need to write a letter in order to stand out to the seller, without realizing the liability of doing so. I, myself, have explained to a ton of buyers over the last year why their letter is not ethical—not just for me as an agent, but for them as well. We also need to explain to our sellers why we, as REALTORS®, cannot allow a buyer to write and submit a letter with their offer. There is a huge liability factor. It is incumbent on us, as REALTORS®, to understand Fair Housing Laws so that we can educate our buyers and sellers, promote Fair Housing, and do our jobs at the highest possible standard.
Here are a few links to expand your understanding: