The Ultimate Love Letter

Dear Sellers The process of searching for the “perfect” home can be exhilarating and exhausting. When a buyer finds the home that they simply “love” it is understandable that the buyer is motivated to ensure that their offer stands out above the rest. To achieve that goal, a buyer might include a “love letter” with their offer that professes their love for the home. While the buyer’s motivation is understandable, an offer that is accepted on the basis of anything other than the ultimate love letter—price and terms—might violate fair housing law.

The inclusion of personal information and characteristics about potential buyers in love letters could cause sellers to unknowingly violate fair housing law. Love letters place sellers in the position of indicating a preference for a buyer based on a “feeling” or something that the seller “just likes” about a potential buyer. This “feeling” frequently arises from shared interests, history, family preferences, etc. of the buyer and seller and is often based on the seller’s unconscious bias. Any decisions related to the acceptance or rejection of an offer on the basis of anything other than price and terms could violate fair housing laws and find the affected parties embroiled in a fair housing investigation.

With limited exceptions, residential real estate transactions occurring in Washington are subject to local, state and federal fair housing laws. These fair housing laws govern a variety of “transactions” including, but not limited to, the sale or lease of houses, apartments, condominiums and advertising related to residential real estate transactions. The law protects against negative housing actions taken on the basis of a person’s protected class status which includes race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, or family status. The Washington State Law against discrimination and other local anti-discrimination laws include additional protected classes such as marital status, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, Section 8, political ideology, and veteran status.

All parties associated with a residential real estate transaction are required to observe fair housing laws and are equally named in complaints alleging fair housing violations. This includes, but is not limited to, sellers, real estate agents, real estate companies, property management companies, homeowners’ associations, etc. If fair housing laws are violated, the responsible parties may be required to pay monetary damages and attorney fees to the prevailing party as well as civil penalties. Additionally, a real estate professional who has violated applicable fair housing laws could lose their professional license.

So, what is a seller or real estate professional to do if they receive a “love letter” that accompanies an offer? Consider the following course of action: 1) become aware of the fair housing law in your area; 2) advise your client that fair housing law applies to them; 3) implement good business practices to ensure that offers are accepted based on objective criteria (price and terms) rather than subjective criteria (feelings or emotions); and 4) document your transaction file with evidence of seller’s objectively based decision to accept the chosen offer.

Fair housing is not only the law, it is good business. Fair housing builds and strengthens communities while ensuring a competitive, open housing market. Fair housing compliance is only one step toward promoting good business. The larger step in that endeavor involves ensuring that all parties involved in the residential real estate market recognize their role in promoting fair housing.

For more information about fair housing law in specific jurisdictions within the State of Washington, please contact the following:  The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development at 800-877-0246 or; The Washington State Human Rights Commission at 800-233-3247 or; The City of Tacoma Human Rights Commission at 253-591-5151 or; The King County Office of Civil Rights at 206-296-7592 or; The Seattle Office for Civil Rights at 206-684-4500 or; The Fair Housing Center of Washington at 888-766-8800 or; or The Northwest Fair Housing Alliance at 800-200-FAIR or

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