We’ve all seen buyer love letters, whether you are the buyer agent submitting one with your offer or the listing agent on the receiving end. We need all the help we can get in this market to get buyers under contract, and sometimes the buyer love letter has a positive impact on the seller’s decision. But should it? The big issue with buyer love letters is the potential for a seller to violate fair housing laws. Letters that contain characteristics of the buyer — like their race, religion or familial status — could be used as a basis for the seller’s decision to accept or reject an offer. This opens the seller up for liability with a fair housing violation.
Buyer love letters are not prohibited, but the topic has been given a lot of press lately. NAR is opposed to the use of them and is actively discouraging their use, but these letters are still being written. If your buyer wants to include a personal letter with their offer, let them know the protected class details that should not be included — their race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or disability. Some states and local governments have additional protections such as age, gender identity and sexual orientation.
For example, your buyer shouldn’t say any of the following:
- The home is within walking distance to our church.
- Our kids will love growing up in this home.
- We can’t wait to start a family in this home.
- I can’t wait to see our Christmas tree in the bay window.
- The layout is perfect for me in my wheelchair.
- We can’t wait to enjoy this home now that we’re retired.
- I want to move to be closer to my grandchildren.
No photo should be included. People have biases, whether they are aware of them or not. These can affect their decision making even if it is not an overt response. If the purpose of writing the love letter is to tug at the seller’s heartstrings, how much tugging can you do without revealing your personal details? The answer is: not much.
Buyers can write about how much they love the house. They can provide details about their financial qualifications and their willingness to be flexible with terms. They may want to have their letter reviewed by an attorney to be safe. If you really want to lift the curtain on your buyers, have them complete the PA–Buyer’s Financial Information (PAR BFI) form, which is submitted with every offer in many markets in Pennsylvania as a norm. This form discloses how much money the buyers have in their bank accounts, their liabilities, their income and employment information. Imagine how much easier it would be for a seller to decide which buyer is best qualified to purchase their home if they had this information.
As a listing agent, you may want to discuss the topic of buyer love letters with your sellers prior to marketing their home for sale. Explain the potential fair housing violations that could arise by learning personal details about the buyers. If they do not want to open themselves up to that liability, you may request that no buyer love letters be submitted with offers, or simply state that buyer love letters will not be presented to the seller per their request. Remind the seller that they should base their decision on the merits of the offer — the price and terms.
The bottom line is there are some very compelling stories out there about why a particular home is a perfect fit for your buyer; however, the only fair way for a seller to make a decision is on the merits of the offer.
Lisa Naples, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices HomeSale Realty
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