It’s a seller’s market in pretty much every area code these days, and that can put a lot of pressure on buyers to put their best foot forward when it comes to making an offer.
Sometimes, the competitive spirit of the housing market can motivate buyers to include a personal letter with their offer in the hopes of winning the seller’s favor. These have been affectionately nicknamed “love letters”.
Often, a buyer might include a card or a note saying something along the lines of, “We’re newly married, and your home is the perfect place to start a family,” or, “There is a beautiful cathedral around the corner we will enjoy visiting every Sunday for mass.”
These might seem like benign statements that could help make your offer stand out to a seller. But did you know buyer “love letters” could actually violate the Fair Housing Act and create legal complications for the parties involved?
Love letters & the law
Although it’s not illegal to write a letter to a seller, complimenting their home or even the seller themselves, it’s the specific content of these “love letters” that can often put sellers in a sticky legal situation.
The Federal Fair Housing Act is a statute that all real estate professionals in the US, and anyone involved in the sale or rental of a home or property, has to abide by. The law dictates that it is “unlawful to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin, disability and familial status.”
A key problem identified with “love letters” is that they often target relatable qualities which the seller believes the buyer will find likeable. For example, “We both are newlyweds; we both attend church.” This is, unwittingly or not, an attempt to seek a biased reaction from the seller.
Therefore, if a buyer writes a letter to a seller that says, “I know my kids will love playing at the park down the street, just as yours have all these years!” then the buyer may have — knowingly or unknowingly — created a competitive edge for themselves, but also hurt another buyer’s chances in the process.
We’re not saying there is any malicious intent in this strategy, but nonetheless sellers can be swayed by factors that shouldn’t have any impact on the sale. Perhaps a family with no children made a better offer, but were rejected because the seller favored another family due to bias. In this circumstance, the family with the better offer lost out, and so did the seller.
Sometimes, buyers may even include things like photographs which reveal characteristics such as race, family status, and other details that shouldn’t be considered in a real estate transaction.
Whether consciously or unconsciously, if a seller decides to make a deal with a buyer because they have a common race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or family status, they are violating the Federal Fair Housing Act.
How to avoid bias
A really easy way to avoid being biased in a home sale is to focus only on the offer — not on the person giving it.
The motivation for selling your home is simple when you think about it, right? You put a price on the listing, and that’s how much worth you believe your home has in a dollar value. The amount you wish to receive in return for the home is ideally as close to the listing price as possible.
Of course, your home also might have a sentimental value. You may have lived there for a number of years. And maybe you have reached significant milestones in your life while living under that roof.
It’s important to remember that you are moving on for a reason. Whatever that reason may be, you can choose to let go of what you can’t control. Because, really, what does it matter who lives in the home after you leave it, if you have moved on with your life?
As a seller, your primary motivation should be to make the most secure sale possible with your preferred terms. Keep your eye on the ball, and instead of asking about personal details, concentrate on things like a buyer’s financial security, their seriousness about the sale, and the overall merits of their offer, such as their price and the terms they wish to negotiate.
After all, as a seller, it’s important to look out for your own financial interests and needs — not playing favorites in a bidding war.
What to do as a buyer
If you’re a buyer wondering how to get an edge in a desperately competitive seller’s market, you’re not alone. That is exactly why “love letters” have become popular — because of the pressure to get a leg up on other buyers.
However, if you don’t want to be involved in breaking the law and unethical practices, or possibly get caught up in legal entanglements, you can simply focus on being straightforward and honest about your means and assets and making pragmatic decisions.
As a buyer, you should always offer a bid you know you can afford. You should also be prepared for the seller to make a counteroffer, as this is often the case. Depending on a homes activity, in this market make your first offer with your best foot forward. Never make an offer you can’t afford.
Never be discouraged if it doesn’t work out the first time. Sometimes, buying a house is a gradual process and it can take some hurdles, but eventually you will find what is right for you. Everything happens for a reason.
We hope you have learned a thing or two about what not to do when it comes to making an offer on a home, as well as accepting one. Although love letters can be charming, they can also create legal liabilities that both buyers and sellers may not have been aware of. It’s all around a better idea to make a good, strong offer and stick with it — and for sellers, to favor whichever offer seems the most secure and financially lucrative. Until next week, take care!