Stop sending me love letters
As a new realtor I was advised that having your buyer send a letter of introduction to the seller tugs at the seller's heartstrings and helps to humanize the offer.
Along with an agreement of sale, financing documents and a signed disclosures, buyers may choose to add a letter that talks about how their son or daughter is looking forward to climbing the trees in the backyard, or how the family will enjoy the deck on a summer evening. Maybe the letter comes with a picture of a smiling group of people that hope someone they’ve likely never met will like the look of them.
The smiles seem to say, pick us, you’d like us if you knew us.
Problem is, in a time when Realtors are starting to face tough questions about racism in our business, this common practice is potentially a fair housing nightmare for your sellers. These letters are a burden to bear for listing agents. Although I am required to present these letters and photos as part of the offer, it is my duty of the listing agent to warn the sellers to avoid these items because of the potential for claims of discrimination.
The federal Fair Housing Act of 1968 was created with the belief that every person has the right to rent or own a home without fear of discrimination due to their membership in a certain class of people. As a listing agent my concern is that these letters, intentionally or unintentionally, make statements about what kind of people the potential buyers are, and who they are not.
One could argue that the letters are self disclosing, and certainly that is the case, however Realtors should understand that not every seller is pure of heart enough to make a decision based solely on the economics of the offers before them. The seller may have lived in their neighborhood for years and built long standing relationships with their neighbors. I’ve heard some sellers express concern about who will replace them in their home and will the buyers engage in the life and culture of the neighborhood as they did.
On its face, this is a kind consideration for their neighbors, but it is a slippery slope to a decision based on how those buyers present themselves, and that certainly could become a consideration of familial status, national origin, religion, education, ethnicity, and race. These love letters then become landmines.
In Pennsylvania, where I am the broker of an independent real estate agency, state law goes further than the federal Fair Housing law, prohibiting discrimination based on age, family history, and pregnancy. Hopefully soon, that law will extend protections to members of the LGBTQ+ community.
In short, federal and state law mandates that all parties in a real estate translation be treated exactly the same.
Imagine a scenario where you present your seller with letters that contain pictures. Among the photos are pictures of a family of Sikhs, a black family, and a white family. You have just put your seller in a situation in which they are being asked to choose not just on the economic benefits of the offers in front of them, but on the look of the individuals who have placed those offers. This is not loyalty and fiduciary responsibility. This is a potential disaster, and you have put your client in legal jeopardy. Intentional or not, the love letters ask the seller to discriminate.
John Spidaliere is the broker and co- owner of LancLiving Realty.. He lives in Lancaster City with his wife and two kids, Samira and Rasa.