Is this the beginning of the end for love letters?

Oregon recently passed a bill banning love letters, letters from home buyers to sellers discussing why they should be picked to buy the home. Does this mean the end of love letters?

In today’s competitive seller’s market, buyers are looking for an edge — anything that can encourage a seller to pick their offer amid a bundle of others. But, love letters have gotten a bad rap lately. According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), who strongly suggest against using these types of letters, “While this may seem harmless, these letters can actually pose fair housing risks because they often contain personal information and reveal characteristics of the buyer, such as race, religion, or familial status, which could then be used, knowingly or through unconscious bias, as an unlawful basis for a seller’s decision to accept or reject an offer.”

Now, Oregon has joined the fray. House Bill 2550 directs the seller’s agent to reject communication from the buyer, such as a personalized letter. That’s because, according to Representative Mark Meek, who is also a real estate agent, “personal letters could lead to selection based on race, sex or religion.”

However, many agents like the ability to get their buyer in front of a seller in a different way. According to Meredith Caruso, associate general counsel for Florida Realtors, if the letters aren’t done correctly, they could end up being a Fair Housing (FHA)violation.

While these types of letters are not in and of themselves illegal, it’s important to note that if done without careful consideration, it could end up being a Fair Housing Act (FHA) violation.

Here are a few examples. One would violate Fair Housing and the other wouldn’t:

Potential violation: A buyer includes a letter with their offer describing how they were raised in a Catholic family and love that the parish they want to attend is within walking distance.

This letter touches on religion, which is a protected class under the Fair Housing Act. According to Caruso, should a seller take these factors into account in arriving at a determination to accept the buyer’s offer, it could be a fair housing violation.

Not a violation: A love letter from a buyer mentions that they love cottage chic and fell in love with both the outside and inside of the house because the style matched their own.

Here, says Caruso, as the buyer solely focused on the property’s characteristics, none of which fall under a protected class, it’s likely not a fair housing violation.

Of course, in Oregon, neither of those letters would fly. And, as a busy real estate professional, you know the importance of educating buyers and sellers on fair housing. We expect other states may follow suit, and probably have the backing of the NAR.