Several times a year, my agents get feedback from the seller’s agent that our client’s offer was similar to another offer, but our clients got the house. Why? Because their letter identified them as the right people for the house. We have been able to tell the story of our clients–without demographic information that could lead to discrimination.
Because we care about Fair Housing, we have developed ways to stick to the point: we have ready, willing, and able buyers who will love and respect the house. They are prepared to buy and will be easy to deal with through the transaction.
That’s what the seller wants to know. When it is true, we tell them so.
Since the beginning of my real estate career, I have included an introductory letter about my clients in their Offer to Purchase real estate. My company routinely uses them, since they do not cost our client anything and sometimes lead to a successful offer in competition. Why? Because we answer the questions that a seller legitimately has the right to know.
What do sellers have the right to know?
- That the buyers have the financial qualifications to buy the house or condo.
- That the buyers are willing to do the actions they have agreed to do on the Offer to Purchase contract (get an inspection, Purchase and Sales Agreement, and mortgage by the deadlines, so that they can close on the date they agreed to).
- The buyers will respect the seller through the transaction and appreciate the home as the sellers used it. (This is important to people who are selling a beloved home that holds memories. It does not matter a whit to developers.)
What disclosures could lead to discrimination?
What some sellers want to know is will these new owners live in this house or condo the way we did? Unfortunately, this often involves the seller making a judgment about whether the new owners are like them. Sometimes that is free of discrimination, sometimes it is not. I have written about this before.
The introductory letters are not inherently contributing to discrimination, but a poorly thought-out letter could disclose information that that tells the seller that the buyer does not belong to a protected class. (In other words, the buyer is white, heterosexual, Christian, an American citizen of English/western European heritage….)
Unfortunately, our fellow Realtors cannot be trusted to understand the nuances of describing a group of buyers without mentioning their race, national origin, marital status, sexual preference, or other indicators that the buyers belong or don’t belong to a protected class. Unfortunately, sellers cannot be trusted to not be swayed by a description of a family constellation. They may not remain fair to people in different family configurations or be unable to relate to the same type of family who are from another culture or race. If those differences sway them, they are discriminating and breaking the law.
Realtors act to reverse a history of discrimination
In the past year or so, the National Association of Realtors has gotten serious about instructing members about ways they have been complicit with discrimination.In a recent training for brokers, NAR advised their members that “love letters” could contain information that violates National Fair Housing laws.
It is my opinion that the National Association of Realtors serves sellers and seller’s agents. They think of buyers and buyer’s agent as an afterthought. Instead of training agents to not include demographic information that could lead to discrimination, the NAR trainer’s advice was to limit the risk to seller’s agents.
If a seller chooses a white buyer, based on their letter (with a picture of the buyer’s white family), their broker could be included in a fair housing lawsuit. Those seller’s agents were advised to discuss the possibility that some buyers would include such letters. It is an agent’s responsibility, said the NAR trainer, to present all parts of an offer to the seller; so the agent is not following licensing law if they remove letters unilaterally. Seller’s agents were advised to discuss these letters with their clients. Before offers are collected, decide whether to include them in the offer packets that the sellers see.
Throwing the good letters out with the bad
About a month after that training, notices like these are being attached to the Multiple Listing Service.
…In accordance with MA Fair Housing laws, sellers respectfully ask that buyers refrain from submitting personal letters. Offers will be judged solely and equally on price and terms. Offers due by…
Unfortunately this is evidence that buyer’s agents have failed their clients. If they didn’t know how to write an introductory letter that avoids identifying their clients are part of a protected class or not in a protected class, they shared information that can contribute to discrimination. In response to this, seller’s agents have moved to protect themselves from allegations of discrimination by throwing out all the letters, whether they contribute to discrimination or not.
This is a loss for our clients.