Housing inventory is low across the country, leading to increasingly competitive markets for potential buyers looking to purchase a home. In an effort to stand out to sellers, some buyers have started including letters with their offers but these "real estate love letters” could have unintended consequences.
Real Estate love letters are letters from a prospective buyer, included with an offer to purchase real estate. These letters may provide insights into why the buyer is interested in a particular property or neighborhood or maybe an emotional appeal to help the buyer earn the favor of the seller beyond just an attractive sales price and favorable closing terms in order to win out over other incoming offers.
Including a letter along with an offer is legal and permissible under Federal and Kansas real estate laws and regulations. However, what may seem like a harmless – or even genius – addition to an offer, may open the door to Fair Housing violations. Under the Fair Housing Act, it is illegal to discriminate in the sale or rental of housing on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability.
Letters that express admiration for a particular architectural style or gush over the beauty of the landscaping don’t risk Fair Housing issues. However, when a love letter includes a family photo, references to the number of children in a family, or a note that the property is close to the buyer’s church, it unwittingly inserts information into the transaction that a seller is not legally permitted to consider and possibly exposes the seller to allegations of discrimination if the sellers opt not to sell to that buyer. Some examples of statements that a seller cannot legally consider:
Sellers who make sales decisions based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability could face a lawsuit for discrimination. Damages in such a suit can include compensatory damages, attorney fees, and noneconomic damages for emotional distress and mental anguish. In some circumstances, punitive damages may also be available.
A recent case in Rhode Island is instructive. A couple submitted an offer on a home. There were two offers and the Sellers were not satisfied with either but sent the same counter-offer to both. The couple accepted the counter-offer while the other potential buyer did not. Eventually, the Sellers refused to sell to the couple because of race. In this instance, the Sellers became aware of the Buyers race not through a love letter, but because one of the Buyers was named Ebony. Those Sellers now face a lawsuit in federal court for four counts of Fair Housing violations under federal and state law and unspecified damages.
These real estate love letters also pose some interesting legal and ethical issues for real estate brokers and agents. Kansas law imposes a duty on a buyer’s agent to promote the interests of the buyer with the utmost good faith, loyalty, and fidelity, including presenting all offers from the client. While a love letter is certainly not a required component of an offer, if a buyer insists on including a letter with their offer, a buyer’s agent who refuses may be violating their duty to their buyer. Likewise, a seller’s agent has certain duties under Kansas law, which include presenting all offers and complying with applicable federal, state, and local laws including fair housing and civil rights statutes.
Before sending a real estate love letter (or before accepting an offer that came with one), know your legal rights and liabilities by discussing with a real estate attorney. We help home buyers and homeowners on a variety of issues, including foreclosure defense. From our offices in Topeka and Lawrence, our experienced real estate lawyers assist clients throughout Kansas. We invite you to contact us by calling (785) 357-6311 or using our online contact form.