Homeownership can be complicated, but we also think it’s one of the most rewarding ventures out there. In our series, Ask an Edina Realty Lawyer, we are hoping to demystify some of the trickier aspects of buying, selling, and owning a home.
You may have heard stories recently about the competitive real estate market. In this edition, our lawyers answer some questions about a popular buyer tactic in the current real estate market and the risks it poses for sellers.
Dear Edina Realty Legal,
I’m selling my home and a potential buyer sent me a letter with their offer talking about themselves and explaining what they like about the home. Is it okay for me to read it?
A buyer love letter
This type of letter is often called a “buyer love letter” and it’s a common buyer strategy to include it in an offer to persuade a seller to sell to them. While it is not illegal for you to read it, it does pose potential pitfalls, especially if it provides certain personal information about the buyer.
How “protected classes” may come into play
The Fair Housing Act, as well as the Minnesota Human Rights Act and the Wisconsin Fair Housing Law, prohibits discrimination in housing based on various “protected classes.” Both federal law, as well as state-specific laws, offer the same types of protections.
The identifiers that are covered by these laws include someone’s race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, disability, receipt of public assistance or any other lawful source of income, sexual orientation, gender identity, familial status, ancestry, age, and status as a victim of domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking.
While the exact definition of what is considered a “protected class” differs slightly between states and may be subject to more specific or different restrictions in certain cities or for certain properties (like senior living communities), it is a good idea to be mindful of all these protected classes no matter where you may be located.
Accepting or rejecting an offer based on the buyer’s personal details could be illegal, even if you aren’t doing so with any intention to discriminate. Unconscious or implicit bias is no less harmful than overt racism or other types of discrimination, and either can result in fair housing law violation.
Get your Realtor’s advice
You should accept an offer based on objective offer terms, like price or closing date, not what “type” of person makes the offer. Basing your decision on any information related to any of the protected classes listed above is illegal.
It’s up to you to decide whether you want to review these types of letters with offers on your property or direct your agent to not provide them to you. You should talk with your agent about your decision on this before the offer process begins.
Whatever you decide, you need to be consistent. If you decide you want to consider this type of information, it’s important to be careful that you are not making any decisions based on any protected class characteristics of the buyers.
The Edina Realty Legal Department serves as in-house counsel for Edina Realty and does not represent private clients. This Insight is not intended to provide legal advice..