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 I tell the seller that my client is in or not in a protected class, and that seller then discriminates based on that information, I made it possible for the seller to break the law. Even casually, I should not be asking about national origin. Recently, 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 me 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?
When writing an effective introductory letter, 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? Yes. I don’t introduce you by writing, “They are a family with two children under six.”
“They are a family of four.”
“The yard, as you have it set up, is just the way they want it. With their big family, they will get good use of both the volleyball area and the swing set.”
“They have chosen town or district based on the reputation of the school(s).”
All of these statements could be true of any family, conventional or unconventional. Grandparents, uncles, and aunts could use a swing set. Schools affect value in any town.
The Realtor® blog does give 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. According to the court case I quoted earlier, it could lead to trouble for the buyer and the buyer’s agent. It seems that the Realtors® don’t care as much about fair play as I do. 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.
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.