They Love Me, They Love Me Not: The Unfortunate Truth About Mortgage Love Letters
If you’re in the market to buy a home, especially in a highly competitive market like the one we’re seeing right now, it may be enticing to submit what’s called a home buyer love letter. Many folks view this as a way to stand out from the crowd by appealing to the emotional side of the sellers and though it may seem harmless at first glance, it unfortunately does come with some potential downsides that many may not consider.
When it comes down to a bidding war people may try and outbid each other while also being flexible with closing dates and foregoing home inspections, but if you know the sellers of the house have been there for 25 years and are selling the home to downsize after having raise all their children you may feel encouraged to write a letter about how you’d like to do the same so that those sentimental feelings could work in your favor. You might write to them about how you’d love to host a pre-prom get together for the children on the amazing front lawn and the excitement of Christmas morning in front of the fireplace. Though this may seemingly be innocuous to you it unfortunately does divulge personal information about you that the seller may knowingly or unknowingly take into consideration as they decide on who to ultimately sell their house to. There may be another bid that’s nearly identical but knowing that you are of a faith that celebrates Christmas may possibly be a reason they decide against your bid.
Now of course this would be considered unlawful because the Fair Housing law prohibits the discrimination upon the basis of protected characteristics such as religion, race or familial status but unfortunately even as an unlawful practice some people may subconsciously be swayed towards or against a bid due to additional personal information that ultimately doesn’t need to be made known. In reality it’s almost a crap shoot because there’s a chance it could work in your favor and there’s also a chance it won’t, and in the off-chance that such personal details are considered as part of the decision making process then things can quickly become problematic from a legal standpoint.
This is the reason the National Association of Realtors alerted its members in 2020 about the possibility of love letters violating the Fair Housing Act and actively discourages this practice altogether. They encourage their members to educate their clients about the fair housing laws and the potential pitfalls of a love letter and advise against delivering love letters. They also state that if clients are persistent in writing a love letter to stay away from helping draft or deliver it in any way. On the seller side they also advise highlighting the objective reasons as to why they ultimately decided on accepting any given offer, such as being based upon terms and price.
Even the CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance has been quoted as saying, “We urge caution around using love letters and encourage real estate professionals to obtain fair housing training regarding how to provide guidance to consumers to wish to use them.” The National Fair Housing Alliance has not taken an official stance against the practice but has great concerns around the lack of standardization around the practice and its overwhelming potential for bias.
Now with all this being said, you are your own person and are welcome to make decisions as you see best fit. However you should be aware of the concerns that officials and professionals in the space have around the practice of writing buyer love letters. As mentioned above there is absolutely no guarantee that your emotional appeal will work and in some cases it may not even be delivered for consideration for fear of legal repercussions.
If however you’re in a situation that is highly competitive and you’re bidding on a house you must just absolutely have, therefore feeling the need to stand out with such a letter the best practice would be to stick to avoiding sharing too many personal details. Another option would be to consider other negotiation tactics that could help you stand out as a buyer. Talking to your real estate agent to brainstorm different tactics you can use to make your offer more appealing could definitely help.
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