Why buyer letters are risky business

In some cases, you may be looking at a $10K fair housing fine

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Christine Smith

By CHRISTINE SMITH

As an exclusive buyer agent, homebuyers ask me all the time about buyer letters. You know the letters I mean: the ones where the buyers write about how much they love the house and why they or their family or their kids will love living there and why the sellers should pick their offer.

The question usually comes to me as, “My friend told me I should write a letter … she said it worked for her” or “I read online that I should write a letter when I submit an offer … what do you think?”

I’m really not a huge fan of the letters to start. Let’s just present a strong offer and leave the negotiating to me. I know sellers sometimes like to know who will be buying their beloved home. But, they shouldn’t. First of all, it’s none of their business. Buyers do not need to know about the people selling the house. Sellers should expect the same.

However, more importantly, that letter could be a violation of the federal Fair Housing Act. equal-house-oppThe Fair Housing Act provides, in part, that sellers cannot refuse to sell a house based on race, religion, color, national origin, sex, family status or disability. Furthermore, Massachusetts law further protects homebuyers from discrimination based on age, sexual orientation, marital status, veteran status, ancestry or source of income.

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That letter that the buyer wrote that says that their family and kids would love living in that house? Well, if that buyer’s offer is chosen and another buyer (perhaps a single person without kids) does not have his/her offer chosen, well then that seller could be facing a fair housing complaint. Not only that, any real estate agent who facilitated that letter by encouraging or even forwarding the letter could be facing the same complaint, as could their broker.

The fine for a first violation of the fair housing law is $10,000. The fines increase substantially after that, not to mention any further civil charges or action by your local real estate board.

Sure, the seller may have just picked the highest offer or best terms. Do you really want to have to go to court to prove that?  

Let’s just focus on the price and terms of the sale and let the strongest offer win. And while you’re at it, you may want to rethink some of those property descriptions; stop asking me what my clients do for work; if they’re married; where they’re from; or if they have kids. But those are stories for another blog post.

This post by Christine Smith, an attorney and exclusive buyer’s agent specializing in the Norfolk County, Massachusetts, area, was originally published on ActiveRain.