In many parts of the U.S., housing inventory is slim, and buyers are doing whatever they can to stand out to sellers. Besides writing their best offer, some buyers want to include a “love letter,” describing why the seller should pick them.
Traditionally, love letters (sometimes called “interest” letters) have been an accepted real estate practice. However, while they seem harmless and are intended to create connections with sellers, love letters can also introduce fair housing concerns.
Why? A buyer’s letter might include personal information that reveals their race, religion, family status or other characteristics that a seller might intentionally or unwittingly, through unconscious bias, use to accept or reject an offer.
For example, “We look forward to living so close to St. Michael’s so our kids can walk to school” reveals the buyer’s religion and family status—two protected classes under fair housing laws.
The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) now strongly discourages this practice. In light of this, how should you guide your agents to protect your brokerage and your clients from fair housing liability?
Educate clients. If buyers understand why love letters pose problems, they are less likely to engage in this practice. You may be more successful in getting clients’ cooperation if you explain why your brokerage supports fair housing goals versus focusing on penalties for violations, even though this is a legitimate concern that clients also need to take seriously.
Establish policies. Most fair housing disclosures do not specifically mention love letters. With your attorney’s help, consider drafting a disclosure or adding a clause to your buyer representation agreement confirming that the buyer agrees not to write or submit a love letter.
Encourage buyers to seek legal counsel. Love letters are not illegal, but they can lead to legal problems. Remind your agents that they should never advise clients beyond their area of expertise.
Do not get involved. If buyers insist on a love letter, do not help them draft it, do not read it and do not deliver it on their behalf.
Document related facts. Encourage your agents to add notes to their buyer-client’s file regarding conversations concerning love letters and any actions the client took independently.
Like so many other aspects of brokerage liability, prevention is always the best approach. NAR encourages brokers to help agents reexamine their practices concerning love letters. It’s a matter of doing the right thing and minimizing your liability.
To access NAR’s complete collection of fair housing resources, visit www.nar.realtor/fair-housing.
Marc D. Gould is senior vice president of Member Development for NAR, overseeing a wide range of professional development programs for REALTORS®, including the Real Estate Buyer’s Agent Council (REBAC). REBAC is the world’s largest association of real estate professionals focusing specifically on representing the real estate buyer. With more than 27,000 active members, REBAC awards the Accredited Buyer’s Representative (ABR®) designation to REALTORS® who have completed the specialized education and documented experience in working with consumers purchasing a home. To learn more, visit REBAC.net.