Buying a home? Skip the ‘love letter’ to the sellerMay 26, 2021 06:06PM ● By Chuck Tashjian
The housing market is so competitive buyers are doing anything they can to get a home.
A common way to try to stand out is to write a heartfelt “love letter” to a seller -- a seemingly harmless note to express appreciation of the home and make a personal connection.
But in this overheated real estate market, what were once simple handwritten or typed letters have lately given way to more polished packages, with photographs of the buyers and even videos. Some prospective homebuyers even purchase letter templates.
These letters can present problems, according to the National Association of Realtors, raising fair housing concerns. While some agents say the tactic is a tried and true way to win a bidding war, other agents, following recent industry guidance, won’t deliver or accept love letters anymore.
According to the federal Fair Housing Act, it is illegal to discriminate in the sale of housing because of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability. And these letters can be full of those kinds of details.
Typically, a letter like this is telling the seller who is going to live in the home and how they are going to live in it. But writing a love letter is not going to get you the house and you’re putting that seller in a position that they could be violating Fair Housing laws.
A buyer may write a letter to the seller that says: “This is my dream home and I’m excited to live there with my husband and our two young children. We love that the home has a first floor bedroom for my mother, who lives with us. I can imagine the kids running down the stairs on Christmas morning.”
Right there you have information about family status, religion and a possible disability. These are protected classes in the Fair Housing Act. You can talk about that kind of personal information, but you can’t do it in a real estate contract.
Realtors surely feel for the buyers who want to snag a seller’s attention. It’s a boilerplate offer and they don’t feel like they have a lot of control in the process, we get why they want to write a letter to find common ground. At The Marzeotti Group Realty, we tell our buyers to spend more time writing an offer, not a letter.
Due to the potential soft discriminatory issues that these letters cause, many listings might state clearly within, that no buyer letters will be accepted.
Sellers should be making a decision only on the best combination of the highest amount of money, type of financing and least amount of risk from a buyer. It’s not always the highest offer that is the winning offer, but a mix of factors. A letter could help sway a homeowner, but likely for the wrong reasons.
Letters of love or liability?
Last fall, the National Association of Realtors released guidance on love letters, advising agents they can be a liability. It isn’t a rule and there are no consequences for agents who do otherwise, but NAR recommends that its member agents should not draft, read, deliver or accept love letters.
There are mixed views and articles about whether this practice is a liability, so the majority opinion is to avoid them all together.
Still, the NAR guidance is a warning for agents and their clients to be conscientious. “If you do rely on a letter, agents and sellers need to document that the decision to accept an offer had nothing to do with race, national origin, religion or other protected classes.”
Best for buyers to focus on price and terms
In such a competitive real estate market, many buyer’s agents may be reluctant to turn off a buyer by telling them not to write a letter.
Letters that don’t include any kind of information about protected classes are fine. Just saying you like the deck and fireplace is okay, but that ultimately shouldn’t matter to the seller.
Similarly, a buyer could write a letter that highlights their intentions with the property -- to live in it rather than to flip it, which doesn’t include any personal descriptions. It is imperative that sellers don’t choose someone because of a connection that is made through a letter, but on the criteria in the offer. I’ve never seen a property sell on the letter on its own -- only when a letter is also with an offer that is better than someone else’s.
It may be small comfort to buyers frantically trying to appeal to a seller in this market especially, but sellers are less concerned about what may happen to their home after it sells or feeling a “connection” with the buyer than buyers may think.
Letters are not a major part of the transaction. The meat of the transaction is the price and the terms. That’s where buyers should focus.