This week, Oregon became the first U.S. state to ban buyer love letters officially. As Inman’s Daniel Houston reported,
“The new law, which will go into effect in January throughout Oregon, says a seller’s agent must reject “any communication other than customary documents” from a potential homebuyer, including photographs.
These letters often paint a personal picture meant to tug at the heartstrings of a seller. But critics say they can also reveal information about buyers that could be used to discriminate against them or others, consciously or otherwise, in violation of the Fair Housing Act.”
Because so many have abused the privilege, I believe it will soon be illegal to send love letters to sellers altogether.
“Buyer love letter” is the term used to describe the letters that potential buyers submit via their real estate agent to sellers to convince sellers to choose their offer.
Frequently these love letters come with photos or videos of the happy potential buyer family, making it possible for sellers to give preferential treatment based on race.
The language and topics covered in these letters can also lead sellers to determine race, religion, sexual orientation and more. Thus, love letters can potentially (read: not always) be discriminatory.
Buyer love letters were prevalent in many markets before the pandemic, but as the market heated up, they became part of that edge buyers were using to get their offers accepted, hopefully. It was only a matter of time that rules and laws would pop up to control the practice.
Although some might see this as pointless or overbearing, this is a massive win for those of us in housing who support anti-discrimination and are fair housing advocates.
Better for the industry
Real estate already has a tarnished reputation, with polls for the past decade ranking the industry at the bottom of trustworthiness along with used car dealers and (gasp and clutch the pearls!) members of Congress in terms of trust, according to Forbes.
Subtracting from the lowly real estate agent rankings were several big hits to its perceived reputation, with the discrimination revealed on Long Island (that Inman has covered extensively) being the poster child.
This new Oregon law will assist in swinging the pendulum away from the perception of real estate agents as discriminatory — as long as they embrace the law rather than push back.
These types of laws would serve the greater good of the industry and the National Association of Realtors that is under pressure and fighting a multifront war.
In my opinion, we will sadly see pushback from some squeaky wheels who will end up in the media’s spotlight, further tarnishing the image of agents. This pushback is already popping up in some groups and threads, just look at the comments on the story.
The speed of weed
This rule probably won’t come to your state tomorrow, but it will likely move at the speed of weed. And actually, there are some similarities.
Marijuana legalization is still not everywhere, but it is becoming more common than not. Similarly, it was Oregon that sparked the first decriminalization laws for cannabis in 1973 as well. However, California became the first state to legalize medical cannabis, igniting a trend that spread to most states.
In 2012, my home state of Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize for recreational use. The point is that it’s a slow process to make change and one that evolves over time.
The new Oregon law is not retroactive, and it starts in January 2022 — presumably to allow for education for agents and the public. Will agents embrace the education? Will associations do special training above and beyond the base? Will there be a breakout session on this at NAR in San Diego or Inman Connect Las Vegas? Will brokers hold mandatory webinars? I hope so, but I doubt it will be at scale or required continuing education before January.
So, congratulations to the people of Oregon on making a big step forward. And now, the rest of the country is looking forward to seeing how the real estate community and the public receive these changes. Hopefully, they will ignite sweeping change for all of us.
Chris Drayer is the co-founder of Revaluate. Connect with him on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FPO.