Are "Buyer's Love Letters" Putting Your Seller At Risk

By
Real Estate Agent with EXIT Realty Beatrice Associates 9506757

In the recent red hot, real estate market, we have seen buyers competing heavily for desirable homes.

One way buyers are trying to tip the scales in their favor is writing love letters to the home sellers.  They have heard their friends have done it or the agent representing them as home buyer has made the recommendation to do so.

What Is A Buyer's Love Letter?

A Buyer's Love Letter is when a buyer writes a letter to a home seller.  They include:

  1. How beautiful, well decorated, how well kept, etc... the home is.   What seller doesn't want to hear that!
  2. Who the buyers are, where they are in life, what they do for work, etc....
  3. How perfect their home is to be their forever home or raise their family or start off their life together, etc.... 
  4. Often they will include photos of themselves and their family.

The point of the home buying love letter is to make a connection with the seller and even tug at their heartstrings.  What mother who has lived in her house for 35 years and raised a family in that house with many happy memories, doesn't want her house to go to a loving family just starting out.

The homebuyer is hoping that emotional connection works in their favor.

Does A Homebuyer's Love Letter Work?

It depends.  Some home sellers are.... show me the money....show me how much you like it with a strong offer!

But more often than not you can see the home seller's heart leap a little as they read the letter. Often reminiscing about past happy memories in their home. At the very least it evokes an emotion, maybe even makes a connection.

Sometimes that connection can "buy" favor in the home seller's mind.  I have even seen sellers favor an offer over another because of the love letter the homebuyer wrote.  Even to the point of the seller selling the home to a slightly less favorable offer.

So yes the buyer's love letter in some circumstances can work.

Putting Your Seller At Risk

The problem of the buyer's love letter is you potentially make the sale of the home about people and not the strength of the offer.  When real estate decisions revolve around people there is a huge risk of violating fair housing laws. 

Federal law does not allow discrimination based on:

  • Race, Color, National Origin
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Presence of children in the household
  • Disability

Each state can also add to the list of discrimination when it comes to fair housing as well.  Here in Massachusetts, these are the additional protected classes of people you cannot discriminate against when it comes to housing:

  • Section 8 or Public Assistance
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Gender Identity and Expression
  • Marital Status
  • Military or Veteran Status
  • Age
  • Ancestry

Where does it become a problem?

Having read a buyer's love letter opens up the seller to inadvertently violating fair housing laws or even sometimes blatantly violating fair housing laws.  For example:

  • You have two relatively similar offers.  One is a young family starting out and they wrote a beautiful love letter.  The second is an older married couple.  You choose the families offer over the unmarried couple.  Whether you did so because you wanted the house to go to the family or not,  you have created a liability for yourself.  The unmarried couple under Massachusetts Fair Housing Laws can claim you discriminated against them.
  • Or say you blatantly choose the family because they would be a good fit for the neighborhood! Bad news. I recently had a buyer of mine write a love letter and I was told by the listing agent our offer was picked because they thought my buyers would be a good fit for the neighborhood.
  • Maybe two competing offers create a situation where one says they can walk to their church, temple or synagogue.  EEEK!  That's a no one situation either way.  Either party can make a claim they were discriminated against no matter what offer you pick regardless of whether the homebuyer's love letter had anything to do with your decision or not.

The list of examples can go on and on....  whether your seller blatantly, inadvertently or even does not make a decision based on the love letter you have open your seller up to a huge liability for suggesting or allowing they read the love letters.

What To Do To Avoid The Liability

Because of your fiduciary responsibility as a listing agent, you must notify your seller of a buyer's love letter. 

But, I would counsel them not to accept and read the love letters from any and all home buyers.  Remind your seller that the offer must be based on its merits of price, terms and condition and not the people.

My advice to sellers is to know as little about the people wanting to buy your house as possible except for their financial ability to buy your home.

Do not even ask personal questions about the buyers.  Don't ask if its a young family or an older couple, or if they have kids.... no matter what your intent for knowing is, your motives can be questioned and used against you.  Even when there is no malintent just having the information can be a slippery slope.

This is one of the reasons why agents don't want sellers and buyers to talk directly to each other.... to avoid liability.

Is It All Right For Me To Write A Love Letter?

With all of that said about the danger of a seller reading a home buyer's love letter, there is absolutely no issue with a homebuyer choosing to do so. 

Writing a personal letter to the seller may just help you get the homes of your dream.  They may not read it but why not give it a try.  You as a buyer are not violating fair housing laws by writing the love letter.

Summary

Selling your home can be emotional.  You want your home to go to someone worthy of having it.  But while caught up in some of the emotion of selling your house, leave out who the people are that are making offers on your home.  The people except for their ability to afford your home have no room in the equation of accepting an offer.

If something should happen and someone made a fair housing claim against you and you can say "I know nothing about the people (buyers) involved" that would certainly wrap things up quickly. 

Versus, "oh yea I remember them they were a nice family, or they were the unmarried couple, or she wanted to walk to her temple..."  OOOOPS!

As listing agents, you have an obligation of informing your sellers of issues revolving around wanting to know who their buyers are and reading love letters. 

Other resources:

 

Comments (6)

Michael Jacobs
Pasadena, CA
Los Angeles Pasadena 818.516.4393

Hello Kevin - at one time, not only were such letters common in some areas but encouraged as part of the selection process.   Times change and considerate thinking prevailed with such activity not as prevalent as it once was.  Unintended consequences perhaps.  

Jun 02, 2020 09:25 AM
Sheri Sperry - MCNE®
Coldwell Banker Realty - Sedona, AZ
(928) 274-7355 ~ YOUR Solutions REALTOR®

Hmmm, 

Interesting! Sometimes sellers see the people who are at a showing.  It is incumbent upon us to make sure our sellers understand the fair housing laws.  We can't control how they feel towards a buyer but we can educate them. 

Jun 02, 2020 05:52 PM
Kevin Vitali
EXIT Realty Beatrice Associates - Middleton, MA
Helping Massachusetts Home Buyers and Home Sellers

Thanks for the comment Sheri Sperry - MCNE®  Obviously there may be some contact between the buyer and seller, but at the end of the day the less the seller knows about the buyer the better.

We all have had the seller asking is it a family, do they have kids, etc...  when an offer is being presented.  And, that when we need to step in and remind them about fair housing laws.

Jun 03, 2020 03:36 AM
Bill Gassett
RE/MAX Executive Realty - Hopkinton, MA
Metrowest Massachusetts Real Estate

Interesting topic for sure Kevin Vitali - seller and their agent always need to be careful.

Jun 03, 2020 06:34 AM
Kevin Vitali
EXIT Realty Beatrice Associates - Middleton, MA
Helping Massachusetts Home Buyers and Home Sellers

Thanks Bill Gassett I always advise my sellers not to accept or read the love letters from home buyers.  The danger in particular is with multiple offers with only subtle differences in the price terms and conditions.  Just having read the letter can create a liability for the seller.

Jun 04, 2020 04:39 AM
Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
Your real estate writer

I find it sad that we have so many rules.

Sellers who have long and happy memories of raising a family in their home should be able to choose based on their belief that their home will be well loved by another generation.

Sad that there is always someone wanting to play the victim.

Jun 04, 2020 08:53 PM
Marte Cliff

Unfortunately, the ability to pick and choose your buyer based on anything other than terms, conditions and price provide a way for peopl to discriminate.  Hence fairhousing laws.

Jun 08, 2020 03:46 AM
Kimo Jarrett
WikiWiki Realty - Huntington Beach, CA
Pro Lifestyle Solutions

Interesting post, however, proving discrimination is difficult, costly and may prove to be a liability to the buyer

Jun 05, 2020 01:21 AM
Kevin Vitali
EXIT Realty Beatrice Associates - Middleton, MA
Helping Massachusetts Home Buyers and Home Sellers

Kimo Jarrett i don't think it is a liability to the buyer they are doing nothing wrong.  It is a liability to the seller.

Jun 08, 2020 03:45 AM
Endre Barath, Jr.
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices - Beverly Hills, CA
Realtor - Los Angeles Home Sales 310.486.1002

Kevin love letters here in Los Angeles went out of style about 10 years ago, it actually hurt them in many cases.... now days it is simply cleanest offer and highest price that works, Endre

Jun 08, 2020 10:38 PM
Kevin Vitali
EXIT Realty Beatrice Associates - Middleton, MA
Helping Massachusetts Home Buyers and Home Sellers

Thanks for sharing that Endre Barath, Jr. They have seemed to make a resurgence here with buyers wanting to stand out from their competition.

Jun 09, 2020 03:44 AM
John Juarez
The Medford Real Estate Team - Fremont, CA
ePRO, SRES, GRI, PMN

I once had a listing and received multiple offers. One was from a young couple who included a sweet letter about how they were expecting their first child and could see that the subject house was a perfect place to spend many future years raising their family. Included was a sonogram of the developing fetus.

Problem: the transaction was a short sale. The sellers were losing a house that they loved. The selling wife would not even look at the letter or (shudder) the sonogram.

Yet, they young couple got the house on the merits of their offer.

 

Jun 27, 2020 06:02 PM
Barbara Tattersall
Keller Williams Realty Metropolitan (Keene,NH) - Keene, NH
GRI

Selling your home is emotional but it is also a business transaction.  I would be more than irritated getting a "love letter" from a buyer.  

Jul 20, 2020 04:11 AM
Kevin Vitali

Barbara Tattersall some sellers love them.  Unfortunately, the information in a buyers love letter can expose a seller to the violation of fair housing laws. 


In Massachusetts, the fair housing list of protected classes is long.  It is easy to be in violation when you start focusing on the people buying your house and not the details of the transaction.

Jul 21, 2020 06:17 AM
Sham Reddy CRS
H E R Realty, Dayton, OH - Dayton, OH
CRS

They do work sometimes!

In the recent red hot, real estate market, we have seen buyers competing heavily for desirable homes. One way buyers are trying to tip the scales in their favor is writing love letters to the home sellers.  They have heard their friends have done it or the agent representing them as home buyer has made the recommendation to do so.

Jul 20, 2020 05:29 AM
Kevin Vitali

Sham Reddy CRS they certainly can work. And there is certainly no harm in a buyer trying.


As a listing agent, I recommend my sellers reject the letters.  With multiple offers it is to easy in Massachusetts to potentially open a seller up to a liability.


I started recommending sellers reject the letters when I had a string of sellers being swayed by the buyer's love letters. It did make a difference.  But with all things being equal you cannot choose a buyer of your home based on who they are... only the price, terms and conditions of an offer.

Jul 21, 2020 06:19 AM
Joan Cox
House to Home, Inc. - Denver Real Estate - 720-231-6373 - Denver, CO
Denver Real Estate - Selling One Home at a Time

Kevin, these buyer love letters have been banned in Colorado, as they can violate our rules.

Jul 20, 2020 05:54 AM
Kevin Vitali

Joan Cox that is actually great news.  The problem with fair housing laws is sellers may not even know they are violating them.

Jul 21, 2020 06:19 AM
Sheri Sperry - MCNE®
Coldwell Banker Realty - Sedona, AZ
(928) 274-7355 ~ YOUR Solutions REALTOR®

Hi Kevin Vitali, thanks for your expert opinion on this matter. 

Jul 20, 2020 07:51 AM
Kevin Vitali
EXIT Realty Beatrice Associates - Middleton, MA
Helping Massachusetts Home Buyers and Home Sellers

Thanks for reading Sheri Sperry - MCNE® 

Jul 21, 2020 06:20 AM
Kristin Johnston - REALTOR®
RE/MAX Realty Center - Waukesha, WI
Giving Back With Each Home Sold!

Great information.  Thanks for sharing and have a wonderful day!

Oct 10, 2020 06:23 AM