Why It’s Time to Dump Home Buyer Love Letters

Some personal letters from home buyers to sellers can open the door to housing discrimination.
Barbara Marquand
By Barbara Marquand 
Updated
Edited by Beth Buczynski

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In today's hot housing market, buyers feel pressure to bring their A-game. Besides making their "highest and best” offers, some eager buyers go an extra step and include a personal letter in hopes of winning the seller's heart.

"We're newlyweds and your house will be a perfect place to start our family!"

"Our kids will love the backyard!"

"We look forward to walking to church from your house!"

Home buyer love letters, as they're known in the real estate industry, may seem benign on the surface. But greasing the wheels of a home sale with a letter that includes certain personal characteristics can open the door to housing discrimination.

Here are reasons to steer clear of buyer love letters and focus on making — or choosing — the best offer instead.

Fair housing law and buyer love letters

The federal Fair Housing Act makes it illegal for home sellers, real estate agents and other housing-related service providers to discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, family status or disability. Many states and local governments also have fair housing regulations that include additional protected classes such as age, gender identity, sexual orientation or military status.

It's not against the law for a home buyer to write a personal letter to the seller. But some buyer love letters can invite sellers to unwittingly violate fair housing laws.

"A theme behind a lot of love letters is 'pick me because I'm so likable' or 'pick me because I'm like you,'" says Jonathan "Jon" Goodman, a real estate attorney at Frascona, Joiner, Goodman and Greenstein P.C. in Boulder, Colorado.

Goodman says sellers may be swayed to choose buyers with whom they identify, not out of malicious intent to discriminate, but because the buyers remind them of themselves.

"We don't recognize that our instinct to help people who are like us can discriminate against 'the other,'" he says.

Besides telling their life stories, some prospective buyers include photos of themselves, which can reveal information about race, family status and other characteristics that sellers shouldn't consider when evaluating purchase offers.

"If the reason the seller 'liked' and chose the buyer was because of shared race, religion, national origin, or other characteristic that is a prohibited basis for differential treatment under fair housing law, it is possible the seller could be challenged for their decision," Vince Malta, president of the National Association of Realtors, said by email.

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