All’s fair in love and war … and in real estate, right? Wrong.
It seems like such a great idea, to write a letter to a seller to let them know why they should sell to you and not anyone else. You are, after all, buying the home of your dreams, as the sellers did when they purchased (or built) the home before you. You want to let them know that you’ll care for the property as lovingly as they did.
The problem? Your love letter to a seller could potentially violate Fair Housing laws, which is why real estate agents, brokers and attorneys are advising clients against these “love letters” between buyers and sellers of real estate.
How Do Buyer Letters Violate Fair Housing?
The Fair Housing Act, enacted in as Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, prohibits discrimination in real estate transactions based race, age, religion, sex, family status and disabilities. When a homebuyer writes a letter, they potentially disclose information that they are in a protected class — family status is the most common. When their offer is rejected without reason, they’re left thinking it’s because the owners didn’t want to sell to a single parent, to a minority, to a family of a particular religion, or some other reason that’s protected by the FHA.
This puts sellers in a precarious position, because if a buyer accuses them of discrimination — do I need to finish that sentence? You’re now involved in a legal battle that could cost thousands of dollars, tarnish your reputation, and delay the selling of your home.
Are Letters From Home Buyers to Sellers Illegal?
No. But don’t do it.
Let me be clear: Letters from real estate buyers to sellers are not illegal. Discrimination is illegal. Home buyer love letters can be discriminatory, whether the writer (buyer) intends it or not. So if a buyer writes a letter to a seller and discloses personal information that could give them a competitive edge or disadvantage — that’s illegal.
As a licensed real estate agent in Arizona, I cannot stop you from writing a letter to a seller, but I can strongly advise against such a letter. I am also under no obligation to deliver the letter to the seller.
In fact, letters from buyers to sellers are against our company policy. We don’t allow letters from our buyers to sellers, nor do we allow our sellers to accept letters from potential buyers. If you are selling a home, we do not want you to be accused of Fair Housing Act violations.
Our job is to protect our clients during real estate transactions. Not only do we want to ensure that you get the best deal, but we also ensure that you are protected during the translation from any type of lawsuit.
So, how do you get an edge on the competition when you and a dozen others are vying to buy property? Great question!
Advice to Sellers in a Competitive Real Estate Market
There is nothing wrong with wanting to make sure the next residents of your home will love and care for the house as much as you did. You can reject offers based on money, closing date, and contingencies, but if you reject offers based on subjective reasons, you’re putting yourself at risk for a discrimination lawsuit.
Your real estate agent should guide you on the pros and cons of each offer and give you advantages and disadvantages of accepting one offer over another. Focus on the terms outlined in the contract.
Accept or reject offers based on objective information: price and terms.
If you receive a love letter from a buyer, don’t open it and don’t read it. Return it to the buyer’s agent and let them know you didn’t read it. You don’t need to offer a reason other than you’re accepting offers from all qualified buyers.
Advice to Homebuyers in a ‘Sellers’ Market
Do a Google search for “how to write a home buyer’s letter” and you’ll find dozens of templates and examples for crafting a heartfelt letter to sellers of your dream home.
In fact, some sites will even tell you that this is a great way to gain a competitive edge over other buyers.
Just … don’t.
The best way to gain a competitive edge in a sellers’ market is to do your due diligence and demonstrate your ability to close on time. Sellers’ biggest fear is that they’ll accept an offer and it will fall through.
- Don’t try to go it alone. Work with a real estate agent who knows your real estate market.
- Get pre-approved for a mortgage (unless, of course, you’re paying cash).
- If you’re paying cash, have proof of funds readily available.
- Don’t ask for the sun, moon and kitchen sink. Keep your offer as simple and as free of contingencies as possible.
- Offer a realistic price at or above asking (your real estate agent will advise you on the price); this is not a time to lowball sellers.
- If you are flexible on the closing date, let the sellers know. A seller who is shopping for their next home could need extra time between your offer and closing to find their next home. Likewise, a seller who is in a hurry could appreciate a quick closing date.
POV from Arizona Realtors on Love Letters