In today’s hot housing market, buyers are doing everything they can to be competitive. Forgoing contingencies, bidding well above the asking price and, in some cases, even bidding on a property without seeing it, all become de rigueur.
But what about the humble love letter? Surely, telling a seller why you like the house and want to own it can only increase your chances.
Not so fast, says the National Association of Realtors, which advises against them. According to the organization, the ratings can cause sellers to violate the Fair Housing Act and can actually jeopardize a deal.
This does not mean, however, that there are no alternatives. At a recent National Association of Minority Mortgage Bankers of America (NAMMBA) event, two Chicago real estate agents shared that they were experimenting with a new format that focuses more on the professional side of the transaction than on the characteristics of the buyer. They said the tactic could be the start of a new chapter for real estate love letters.
Traditional buyer love letters might seem like a nice personal touch to help your offer stand out, but real estate professionals warn they can inadvertently trick a seller into considering information they’re not. supposed to take into account when evaluating competing offers.
“If you send something like, ‘When we saw the house, I was imagining my kids playing in the backyard,'” said Eve Benton, designated chief broker for Exit Strategy Realty in Chicago, “you’re running risk that they say you selected this buyer based on family status, which is a protected class.
READ MORE: Homebuyers, don’t count on sellers to read the letters you write
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination against potential home buyers on the basis of race, color, religion, sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity), disability, family status and national origin.
Personalized love letters tend to include buyer information that falls into at least one of the protected categories, which can leave not only the seller’s agent but also the sellers themselves on the hook for potential violations.
With traditional love letters on the table in many cases, Benton said she wanted to find a way to help her clients’ offerings stand out without bending the law. So she tried composing a new kind of note that instead focuses on the team she works with.
Nicole Wheatly, a community development consultant and Benton’s colleague at Exit Strategy Realty, tried the same tactic.
“I needed to sell the team to my client,” Wheatly said. “I focus on the mortgage broker we work with, their years of experience, efficiency, communication skills, etc. etc. I also talk about the attorney and how that attorney will help us secure let it be fair, legal process.”
Benton added that she would include any information about the strength of her buyer’s finances.
“I’m now working with a buyer who not only has pre-approval, but is approved,” Benton said. “They could close, if the seller is ready, within two weeks.”
Benton and Wheatly said this new love letter format doesn’t seem to be widespread yet, but they’ve had positive responses so far and said it could benefit everyone if they become more popular.
It also helps sellers feel more confident the deal will go through, Wheatly said: “I think we’ve been extremely successful in selling our team and making them feel like they’ll be good to work with. ”
Love letters aren’t the only strategy buyers can or should employ to compete in today’s housing market. The first step for most is to find an agent who understands the neighborhood where you want to buy and can help you through a process that will inevitably involve multiple offers and some disappointment along the way.
» READ MORE: Skipping home inspections in a competitive market is tempting — and risky
It’s also a good idea to control your budget early, be prepared to be flexible with your property wishlist, and do your research on the area where you shop. You won’t just want to make sure it’s a good lifestyle; you’ll also want to know a bit about other successful deals so you can tailor your offer to market trends.
You can also work to improve your credit score and grow your down payment if you’re not quite ready to start bidding.
It can be risky for buyers to tell sellers too much about themselves in a love letter, as they may come up against the limits of fair housing. Instead, Benton and Wheatly said, agents can use these letters to promote the strength of the professionals behind the offer. Buyers can also prepare for intense market competition by doing their market research and improving their financial profile, which can help make their offer more attractive and streamline the path to closing.