If it’s been years since you’ve had a home on the market, you may be surprised and touched when your real estate agent forwards you emails or even hand-written letters from prospective buyers. These “love letters” have become common – particularly in highly competitive markets.
In these letters, buyers typically tell a seller why their home is perfect for them. They’ll likely mention their children and/or pets, talk a bit about themselves and even include photos.
As a seller, you’re probably more swayed by who comes up with the most solid offer than by how adorable the couple or family is or how much they have in common with you. However, unfortunately, some people may decide not to accept an offer if they realize the potential buyers are a family of a different race or religion than them or an unmarried couple.
Fair housing laws
Even if you have no problems with any of these things, just by knowing them, if you don’t accept their offer, you could be accused of violating the Fair Housing Act. This federal law was enacted to protect people from being denied housing on the basis of a number of protected characteristics, including family status.
New York City extends those protections to even more characteristics or classes, including:
- Citizenship status
- Lawful occupation or source of income
- Sexual orientation
- Gender identity/expression
Just knowing or being reasonably able to assume that a potential buyer is in a protected class could cause legal problems for the seller and possibly their real estate agent.
Protecting yourself from legal problems
If a buyer who’s been turned down files a fair housing complaint, the seller could be hit with a hefty penalty. At the very least, it can seriously delay a home sale.
That’s why the National Association of Realtors (NAR) has cautioned its members about accepting or sending “love letters.” They can become complicit if a buyer even mentions that they didn’t like the “look” of a particular family or didn’t think they’d “fit in” to the neighborhood.
Unfortunately, not all real estate professionals have heeded this warning. As a seller, you can still protect yourself by telling your agent you don’t want to see any of these letters, as they won’t affect your decision and you don’t want to risk potential litigation. This is just one reason why having legal guidance during a home sale can be valuable.