Writing a love letter to a seller isn’t illegal, but if we discourage buyers from writing them, we might help promote fair housing. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Fair Housing Act, and as such, we need to take a good hard look at the practice of using buyer “love” letters to win a home.

This isn’t a new topic for me. I have written about it before, and so have others. Now that we are in a strong seller’s market, buyer “love” letters are popular, especially in multiple-offer situations.

Buyers will even include pictures of themselves. Pictures of a young man and a young woman with blond hair and perfect smiles.

Buyer love letters are rarely just about the property. They almost always include information about the buyers. At the same time, fair housing laws are all about selling real estate to anyone who is qualified to buy it — regardless of race or family status.

If a real estate agent encourages homebuyers to write a letter to the sellers and include pictures of themselves and information about their family, isn’t that agent also violating fair housing rules?

Writing a letter to a seller isn’t illegal, but if we discourage buyers from writing them, we might actually help promote fair housing.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Fair Housing Act, and as such, we need to take a good hard look at the practice of using buyer “love” letters to win a home.

The proper way to write a buyer ‘love letter’

Family status is the most common theme in letters from buyers. The couple, always a man and a woman, just got married or are getting married, and they have, or plan to have, children.

One of the reasons potential homebuyers write letters to the seller is because it works, and buyer’s agents know this. Letters to the seller are not illegal, but they should be handled delicately by both the buyers and the sellers, and the agents should guide them.

If the buyers sent a letter that told the sellers how much they liked the property because of the location, the architecture or the décor, that would be another matter.

Buyers could write about how they have driven by the house on the way to work for years and imagined what it might be like to live there. Maybe buyers could mention how often they use the park down the street or how they will enjoy living in a walkable neighborhood.

There are all sorts of positive comments that can be made about a home or a property if the buyers really feel the need to strengthen their offer.

Instead, buyers write about how they picture themselves raising a family in the home and growing old together. Having children is family status. I am spelling that out because people don’t seem to get it.

It should be about more than familial status

It seems like most real estate agents understand that discrimination based on skin color and religion is illegal, but they still view housing as a place for members of the opposite sex to breed and raise their young.

It’s hard to believe that people don’t understand that we cannot discriminate against or favor homebuyers because of their family status.

Advertisements for real estate companies and for real estate portal websites almost always have pictures of children playing, sleeping, reading, watching television or eating.

Houses are not just for people with children. There are people who need housing who will never have children.

I have worked with homeowners who have some ideas about who should or should not buy their house. My job is to educate them. I cannot help them violate fair housing laws by refusing to sell to someone who is single.

What if a seller accepts an inferior offer because of a buyer’s family status? Is that fair to the young single male who wanted the house just as badly and offered as much or more for it?

Showing sellers the offer

As a listing agent, I make my clients aware that a letter has been sent. Sometimes they are even attached to the purchase agreement so that an extra step is needed to remove it before the sellers see it.

I tell them about letters from buyers and explain to them why they should not look at or read them before they accept an offer.

Most of my clients are far more interested in the sale price, down payment and contingencies than they are in who the buyers are.

Numbering the offers, putting the numbers side-by-side on a spreadsheet that calculates the seller’s bottom line for comparison and referring to them by number is a great way to deal with multiple offers.

We can do better

There are federal rules that ban any discrimination in the housing market. We cannot discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin, and we cannot help our clients discriminate.

These laws have been around for 50 years, yet some real estate agents still encourage homebuyers to write letters to sellers that include pictures and information about the buyer’s family status.

We need to do more than not discriminate. We need to educate our clients and our agents and promote fair housing, or the next 50 years are not going to be any better than the past 50.

Teresa Boardman is a Realtor and broker/owner of Boardman Realty in St. Paul. She is also the founder of StPaulRealEstateBlog.com.

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