No more love letters

Love Letters and Implicit Bias word balloonFor years, Realtors have encouraged their home buyers to write “love letters” to go with their purchase offer on the home the buyers were trying to buy. The idea was to be more likeable so that the sellers would want to sell to them, as opposed to any competing home buyers. But as of now, the guidance from the National Association of Realtors is different: no more love letters.

What is wrong with buyer love letters?

The U.S. Fair Housing Act protects home buyers and renters from discrimination or bias under protected categories of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability. (In California, there are even more protected areas.) Put another way, when a home seller looks at a buyer package, the decision should be based on the offer price and terms, not on who the buyers are.

The concern with love letters is the risk of implicit bias: that the sellers would like or dislike buyers, even unconsciously, because of non-contractual facets that are protected.  While it’s not illegal for a doctor to want to sell to another doctor, it is illegal for one member of a religious group to give preferential treatment to another member of the same religious group. It’s also illegal to give preferential treatment to buyers who have children versus those who do not. Photos are especially risky as they may enable things from the protected class list to be known.

Last October the National Association of Realtors published an article for its members in Realtor Magazine on this topic, Why a Buyer Love Letter Could Turn Into a Poison Pen. This short piece admonishes that even innocuous sounding statements are problematic:

Even a mention within a letter of envisioning “children running down the stairs on Christmas morning” could stir up trouble. After all, such a statement reveals the buyer’s familial status and religion, which are both protected under fair housing laws.

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