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Home buyer love letters could create legal liability, real estate group warns

The National Association of Realtors recommended that its members explain the pitfalls of love letters to their buyer clients. (John Raoux/AP)

In a housing market with a high demand for a limited supply of homes, buyers must often compete in a variety of ways to have their offer accepted by sellers.

While offering more money, waiving the ability to negotiate over flaws found during a home inspection and being flexible with the closing date are common ways to stand out in a bidding war, some buyers also appeal to the emotions of the sellers. Buyers can attach a letter to their offer or mail a letter to the sellers describing themselves and their appreciation for the house in the hope that the sellers will be moved by their words to accept their offer.

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Buyer “love letters” are not always successful and not useful if the seller is an investor rather than someone leaving a home with sentimental value. While most people assume that a love letter is harmless, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) alerted its members in 2020 to the possibility that the letters could violate the Fair Housing Act.

While sellers may accept any offer they choose for their property based on the price and terms, Fair Housing laws prohibit discrimination based on protected characteristics such as the religion, race or family status of prospective buyers.

Frequently, buyer love letters are written to tug on the heartstrings of the sellers. For example, if the buyers know that the sellers lived in their home for 25 years, raised their family there and hosted holidays and weddings there, they could reference those experiences in the context of their plans for the house.

If buyers write a letter about how much they look forward to hosting Passover seders or that they can picture their daughters posing for prom pictures in front of the fireplace, then they have revealed their family configuration and their religion to the sellers. If their offer is not chosen, the sellers could be accused of making a decision based on those factors in violation of Fair Housing laws.

Buyers are not barred from writing these letters, of course, but to avoid potential discrimination, they may want to stick to describing their enthusiasm for the features of the house or neighborhood rather than revealing too much personal information.

NAR recommended that its members explain the pitfalls of love letters to their buyer clients and remind their seller clients that their decisions about any offers should be based on objective criteria such as the terms and price rather than on the buyers themselves.

For more information about the Fair Housing implications of letters to sellers, click here.

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