Buyer letters are risky business, more importantly, that letter could be a violation of the federal Fair Housing Act.

Posted by Cary W Porter on Tuesday, January 5th, 2021 at 10:26am

Brokers/Agents working at The Cascade Team are asked to NOT include any Buyer letters or allow them to be received with offers on properties they represent:

The Fair Housing Act provides, in part, that sellers cannot refuse to sell a house based on race, religion, color, national origin, sex, family status or disability. Furthermore, the law further protects homebuyers from discrimination based on age, sexual orientation, marital status, veteran status, ancestry or source of income.

Homebuyers ask all the time about buyer letters. You know the letters I mean: the ones where the buyers write about how much they love the house and why they or their family or their kids will love living there and why the sellers should pick their offer.

That letter that the buyer wrote that says that their family and kids would love living in that house? Well, if that buyer’s offer is chosen and another buyer (perhaps a single person without kids) does not have his/her offer chosen, well then, that seller could be facing a fair housing complaint.

Not only that, any real estate agent who facilitated that letter by encouraging or even forwarding the letter could be facing the same complaint, as could their broker.

The fine for a first violation of the fair housing law is $10,000. The fines increase substantially after that, not to mention any further civil charges or action by your local real estate board.

A letter phrase like “my kids running down the stairs on Christmas morning” includes two protected classes under the Fair Housing Act – religion and familial status.

Fair Housing Claims:

Real estate agents need to understand how to respond when a client violates fair housing laws. By acting swiftly to separate yourself from and address the discriminatory behavior, you can not only protect yourself from potential liability, but also help prevent fair housing violations.

  •         Remind clients of their obligations under the Fair Housing Act, and of your policy not to discriminate.
  •         Discontinue representation of any client who has made a statement or taken an action in violation of fair housing laws.
  •         Report the situation to your broker.
  •         Document the situation in writing, including what actions you took in response to your client’s violations.
  •         If you are unsure whether a client’s actions violate fair housing laws, consult with an attorney. 
  •         In addition to these best practices, it’s always a good idea to include a clear statement of your commitment to upholding fair housing laws in your listing agreements and other communications with clients.  These efforts, along with a reminder to clients of their own obligations under fair housing laws, will go a long way to not only protecting you from legal liability, but to helping prevent fair housing discrimination.

Suggestion:

Add the following verbiage to MLS Agent Remarks:

Buyer letters to Sellers NOT accepted and will not be presented with any offer. Please do NOT include.

A letter phrase like “my kids running down the stairs on Christmas morning” includes two protected classes under the Fair Housing Act – religion and familial status.

  • NAR recommendations to avoid love-letter fair housing violations
  • Educate clients about the fair housing laws – and the pitfalls of buyer love letters
  • Tell clients that you won’t deliver buyer love letters
  • State in the MLS listing that no buyer love letters will be accepted
  • Remind sellers that a decision to accept or reject an offer should be based on objective criteria only
  • If a buyer client insists on drafting a love letter, don’t help them write or deliver it
  • Avoid reading any love letter written or received by a client
  • Document all offers received and the seller’s objective reason for accepting an offer
  • Source: National Association of Realtors® (NAR)

2020 was a unique one for real estate. Though the pandemic slowed the majority of the economy down, the housing sector boomed.

 

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