Invitation to discrimination: 'Love letters' and Fair Housing

Reposted with permission from Windermere Real Estate and Keryn Giguere.

The real estate market in Tacoma, [Washington], the past year especially, has been difficult for buyers. They face multiple offers, low inventory and folks with cash — eliminating the seller’s need to accept an offer from a financed buyer, which requires additional steps like an appraisal.

While representing a buyer, it is my duty to make my clients aware of their options for competing in this sellers’ market and to encourage them to take advantage of options that are available to them to enhance their offer — and hopefully beat competing offers.

The conflict for me is: What about tactics that I don’t think should even be at our buyers’ disposal?

Love letters” are commonly found in the real estate world, especially in competitive markets, where houses are receiving multiple offers. The letters I have seen typically include a cute little bio about the buyer’s family, what they like about the house and their plans moving forward after they’ve completed the purchase. Some even include pictures of the buyers.

If you are like me, you might start to question the ethical validity of something like this. Sure, for the heteronormative, cis pair with an adorable child and golden retriever this sounds like a wonderful tactic. But what if you are a gay couple? A single woman? What if you are a trans person trying to compete for the same house?

I have seen my buyers lose in a competitive situation because the seller preferred a family move in rather than a single lady. This does happen. My question is, how is this allowed?

I agree that as long as this is legal, we shouldn’t tell our buyers that they can’t submit a letter to a seller. I have had clients write up some well-thought-out letters, focusing on the house and their plans, more than their personality and marital status. I have had clients submit the cute family photo, with no malice or ill will intended.

I just can’t help but think of my clients who are scared that the seller won’t want to cooperate with them if they find out their identity. I have had gay clients worried about the seller being at the inspection and not liking that they are LGBT+. There are concerns that some have to carry that others do not.

Some people may argue that the seller can’t break a contract because of these things, but they sure can make it difficult and discourage a smooth transaction; for example, not cooperating on needed repairs or not allowing an extension of the closing date because of appraisal issues.

In some circumstances, a letter can backfire. What if the buyer writes about how much they love animals and how they are looking forward to moving in with their three kitties, and the seller doesn’t like cats? Sometimes these details can be more detrimental than beneficial to the buyer’s competitiveness.

I don’t think people who write letters are doing a bad thing. I do, however, think that the letters inherently encourage bias, prejudices and favoritism based on factors that dance on the line of ethics in fair housing.

Keryn Giguere is a Realtor with Windermere Professional Partners in Tacoma, Washington. Follow her on Facebook.

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