By Bob Walsmith Jr.
Santa Barbara Association of Realtors
Think twice before writing or receiving a love letter home.
Have you heard of the dog who wrote a love letter? Not to its owner, but to a door-to-door seller. Well, actually, the dog’s owner wrote the letter in Buddy’s voice. Buddy described how wiggle-worthy the house was and how he craved a backyard fetch game.
Ghostwriting Doggie, which has happened IRL, is just one way homebuyers can get creative to get a seller to accept their offer. Sounds harmless enough, right? But letters from buyers to sellers of homes can unintentionally create discrimination and risk for buyers, sellers and their agents. And there are more effective ways to deliver what sellers value.
How love letters to door-to-door sellers work
“A love letter is any communication from buyer to seller where the buyer is trying to stand out,” says Deanne Rymarowicz, associate attorney at the National Association of REALTORS®. “It could be an email, a Facebook post, a photo. For example, some buyers send elaborate packages with videos and letters. The purpose of communication is to “choose me, and here’s why”.
The buyers who write the letters usually send them to the listing agents, along with their offers. They ask, “Could you please forward this to the vendors?” They do what they can to get their offer accepted, especially in a competitive market
Letters may risk violating fair housing law
While these love letters may seem harmless, they can create a problem if buyers accidentally reveal information in one or more of the seven areas protected by the Fair Housing Act, Rymarowicz says. These domains are race, color, religion, sex, disability, marital status, or national origin. “Buyers might say something like, ‘It’s down the street from our temple,’ or ‘The hallways are wide enough to accommodate my wheelchair.’ Anything that provides personal information related to any of the prohibited grounds of discrimination may result in a violation if a seller makes a decision based on that information.
Do love letters to door-to-door sellers work?
Besides creating potential risk, love letters to salespeople aren’t that effective. The offer should really stand on its own. A love letter won’t help a low offer.
Beyond the communication, the circumstances may suggest discrimination under the Fair House Act. Let’s say an offer with a love letter got the house but was less appealing than an offer without a letter. If the losing buyer does not share the characteristics of the seller and the winning buyer does, you could have a situation. If sellers accept love letters, it is more important that they document the basis of their decision when selecting a winning offer.
Tips to Avoid Violating the Fair Housing Act
So what exactly should you do to avoid the risk of violating the Fair Housing Act? Here are five tips:
1. Keep the contract in mind: Realtors® should discuss with buyers and sellers the limits of the contract. Please do not communicate with the other party, as we are in the process of negotiating a contract and need to manage deadlines.
2. Focus on objective information: Find ways to differentiate yourself in objective terms. And talk to the agent about how to improve the substance of your offer. Can you make a larger deposit? Can you give them a longer closing date?
3. Proceed with caution: The NAR discourages buyer’s letters to home sellers and advises caution.
4. Talk to your agent: Don’t be surprised if your real estate agent brings up the subject. “If you are the seller, the listing agent may talk to you about the potential for fair housing violations. They may ask you if you want to accept the risks,” says Rymarowicz. buyers, the buyer or the seller can do it.
5. Know Your State’s Law: California law does not prohibit such letters written by a potential buyer or tenant to the seller or landlord. And California law requires the potential buyer’s agent to deliver these letters to the seller’s or owner’s agent, and that agent must deliver them to his client.
This is another perfect example of speaking and trusting the advice of your local professional real estate agent to guide you through this process. This and a million other reasons why they are there with you every step of the way.
Bob Walsmith Jr. is a Southern California native and Realtor® at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties in Santa Barbara. During his work with the Santa Barbara Association of Realtors, Bob has served on the CORE Committee, the Education Committee, served as Chair of the Budget and Finance Committee and the Multiple Listing Service Committee. He is also a member of the board of directors of the Alpha Resource Center in Santa Barbara. Bob lives in Goleta with his beautiful wife Julie. When he’s not working, Bob enjoys golfing, tasting fine wine, eating well and walking our beautiful coastline. Bob can be reached at 805.720.5362 and/or [email protected]