How is an Offer to Purchase like a love letter?
When a buyer makes an Offer to Purchase, it should be clear and complete. It must give the seller the impression that you are a ready, willing, and able buyer. It should reassure the seller that you are organized, have solid financing, and that you are the kind of people they’d like to sell to.
Ouch! What if the kind of people the sellers want to sell to are white, heterosexual, American-born Christians? See the problem?
If an agent tells the seller that my client is in or not in a protected class, and that seller then discriminates based on that information, the agents made it possible for the seller to break the law. Even casually, an agent should not be asking about national origin. In 2014, a broker was found liable for $60,000+ in fines and fees for making a rental customer uncomfortable by asking.
I believe that doing the right thing is the right thing, whether or not it leads to avoiding lawsuits and fines. I have thought long and hard about how to go about introducing my clients without tripping over protected class identifications.
- I work with people in protected classes; would I be disadvantaging them by saying so? Maybe.
- I work with people who are not in protected classes; would I be helping the seller discriminate against some other buyer who is in a protected class by identifying them? Maybe.
It is very easy for agents to avoid saying “born in the USA” or “white.” Many married people have different surnames, so marital status is no longer obvious. It’s easy for me not mention national origin, ancestry, race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, veteran status, or marital status.
The problem persists in regard to children. In rental housing, children are a protected class and subject to significant discrimination. But in purchases, the presence of children or expected children is a positive for most sellers. How do we craft a letter that makes a good impression without encouraging housing discrimination against buyers who do not have children?
Love letter from buyers to sellers can aid discrimination
When writing an effective introduction letter to a seller, it helps buyers if the seller can imagine that buyer picking up the mantle of owning this house. Can you do this without blatantly violating fair housing laws?
You can, but it takes some forethought. Even the Realtor® blog gives an example of an activity with a daughter. I do not think that is fair play. It discriminates against people who do not have children. They haven’t taken that advice down, but they have added more information on how these introduction letters (sometimes called “love letters”) can open the door for discrimination.
As much as I want my clients to have their offers accepted, I want the sellers to choose based on my clients being organized, pleasant, interesting people. I don’t want them to prevail by cooperating with people who are breaking the law and acting on their prejudices.
Because other agents are still communicating information that could lead to discrimination, some states are actively banning the practice of buyer introduction letters. This, I think, is a mistake. Selling houses is a personal thing, especially for owner-occupied places. However, there needs to be a better way to avoid over or accidental discrimination.
A better way to write a real estate love letter
An alternative is to have Offers to Purchase presented to the sellers without any names. This would remove any chance of assumptions being made based on the buyer’s names. It removes identification of gender, ethnic background, or race. The seller’s agent would say, “Offer number one is offering this price, this financing, and this inspection. They wrote that they are software engineers and they kayak on the river nearby… Offer number two is offering….
In that situation, a “love letter” could include things about the buyers that make them interesting to the sellers. For example, if the sellers have a garden, the buyers could say they admire it and would like advice about maintaining it. If the sellers have a grand piano, the buyers can mention the one is a concert pianist. This kind of information can help the seller let go of the house, because they can relate to the next owners.
Part of being a buyer’s broker, for us, is to work with buyers to get their best deal on a good house for them. But it is always about doing the right thing, for the buyer and for the community. For more on this, see the Fair Housing Commission Facebook page for the City of Somerville.