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With an overheated real estate market, buyers are increasingly relying on so-called “love letters” to sway sellers on their bid. The problem? These letters are often very personal and include details that can lead to discrimination based on race, religion, or class. That’s why the National Association of Realtors recommends that you avoid them altogether, whether you are a buyer or seller.
Love letters—otherwise known as buyer’s letters—are commonly used by buyers when bidding on a property. The letters introduce the buyer to the seller, in the hopes of making some sort of connection that will give their bid an edge. Typically, a love letter will outline all the reasons why the home is perfectly suited for the buyer, and will mention personal details that might create a bond with the seller, such as having kids or pets, or a love of hobbies like gardening or cooking. In some cases, these letters also include photographs or videos of the buyers, as well.
While having the highest bid on a home is what most home sellers look for, there is some evidence that these emotional pleas work. As the Wall Street Journal reports, a 2018 study by brokerage Redfin Corp. showed that a personal letter could make an offer 52% more likely to be accepted.
Even a seller with best intentions of being fair can be swayed by a buyer that shares common interest or lifestyle. This increases the risk of discriminating against buyers based on race, class, religion, sexual orientation, disability, and national origin, which would violate the fair housing act. For example, consider this (cringey) love letter template, which includes the following sample text:
Inside this house, we love the layout. It is so bright and inviting! Our cats Bubba and Mr. Cat will love basking in all the natural light. We can see our Christmas mornings by that gorgeous fireplace (swoon!), cooking meals in the beautifully designed kitchen (Jane enjoys cooking), and each bedroom is ready to be a cozy retreat for each member of our family (present and future).
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By mentioning Christmas, this letter could be read as “hello, fellow Christians,” which would be discriminatory if that swayed a potential owner. Likewise, a home filled with a growing family might appeal to the seller, but that could be unfair to a legitimate bid from a couple without kids, or someone who is unable to have children.
This is why the National Association of Realtors has put out guidance to its members recommending they don’t draft, read, or deliver love letters written by their clients. Other realtor associations in California, Ohio, and Arizona have similar guidance. Oregon has recently banned love letters, as well.
Realistically, in a hot housing market, it’s very difficult for buyers to avoid writing love letters if that’s what every other bidder is doing. On the other hand, if you’re a seller, you have all the power to ignore those love letters for ethical reasons (the threat of actual legal action is unlikely, as the National Association of Realtors says there have been no lawsuits related to love letters). Instead, focus on legitimate, non-discriminatory criteria when making a selling decision.