Low inventory and high demand have driven highly competitive multiple offer situations. To distinguish themselves, buyers often send sentimental letters and photographs to sellers to promote and distinguish their offer as the one to accept. It is important to keep Fair Housing laws in mind, however, whenever your client either sends or receives a letter.
Do not allow a photo to be included.
Including a photo of a buyer with a letter to a seller almost inherently violates fair housing laws. A photo can pull the Seller’s heartstrings, but it can also show race, color, family status or other features of being in a protected class. This does not just impact the sellers who viewed the photo or the buyers who submitted it, but the real estate licensees who are involved in the transaction. All are culpable under state and federal laws. If you receive a letter to a seller with a photo, inform the sender that the photo cannot be included. If the buyer won’t remove it, you should.
A letter itself may not violate fair housing laws – unless it does.
Whether a letter violates fair housing depends on the content. If the letter discusses or touches upon a topic that is subject to fair housing laws, the letter is as bad as the photo. If the letter simply discusses the home and stays away from issues related to protected classes, it can be a fine and completely legal marketing tool.
Potentially Improper things to write:
“We cannot wait to raise our family in your home.”
“The house is so convenient to synagogues.”
“Our children will love the backyard.”
“I am so glad it is close enough to schools for our kids to walk.”
Potentially Proper things to write:
“The care you took of the home showed as we walked through it.”
“We really appreciated the decorations and paint selection.”
“The new roof is a feature that made us feel comfortable making this offer.”
Protect your real estate license!
Essentially, the letter can discuss features and benefits of the home itself, but should avoid specific needs of the buyer or seller, and avoid discussion of neighborhood features related to religion or other protected classes. Stay away from areas where not only the parties can get into trouble, but where the real estate licensees can as well!