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Opinion: To write, or not to write?

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Our recent super seller’s market has sparked buyers to write ‘love letters’ more often to woo a seller. This letter is carried by the agents with the offer and details their motivation for wanting to buy the home. It invites the seller ‘to better know’ a buyer and choose them above any competing offer, sell to them at a lower price, or even accept a cumbersome condition.

The letter could include embedded photos or videos or links to personal online platforms. Unfortunately, these letters may also enable prejudicial decision-making not allowed in Canada. For example, a young couple decides to close their letter by stating that they were praying for a favourable outcome because they noted a large Christian cross displayed prominently in the seller’s home. A strategy could include noting political signage, rainbow flags, Indigenous art or decor items from the owner’s country of origin and referencing these in the letter. Even signalling family composition could be an attempt to bias a decision.

There is anecdotal evidence that this is happening more frequently in the parts of Canada with less diversity – small cities and more rural towns. This practice can also violate the rights of our fellow real estate professionals, as in the story of the Punjabi agent whose buyer asked to pass a letter to the seller, which made veiled indications that the buyers were of a different skin colour than their own chosen representative.

This has gone largely unquestioned in Canada, but the National Association of Realtors (NAR) warns against it, and some states have now made it illegal. NAR often reminds its members that the love letter can violate America’s Fair Housing Act and can potentially discriminate based on race, colour, national origin, religion, disability, sex, and familial status.

As a professional working in Canada, you should understand the laws that prohibit discrimination in the province where you work. The Ontario Human Rights Code states that impact is more important than intention and that everyone should be able to negotiate a contract on equal terms. It states that we don’t get to choose our neighbours or design our neighbourhoods according to our preferences. And as members of a profession that serves to help the public meet their housing needs, we have an obligation to create inclusive communities.

Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms lists the kinds of discrimination that are not allowed and includes political affiliation. Some real estate boards are beginning to consider the issue. The Nova Scotia Association of Realtors recently struck a committee for this purpose.

The best agent strategy is to avoid the problem: do not coach your clients to write love letters. Develop your best practices and share this with clients before offering time. If your buyer requires further convincing to forgo the letter, advise them that the practice can be seen as manipulative, offensive and violating the seller’s ethics. Take control of the narrative and, with their permission, write a simple, factual paragraph that speaks to your client’s ability to live up to the terms of the offer.

If you’re representing the seller, have a conversation and ensure they understand that someone in the offer process could try to appeal to their emotions. Remind your seller that the buyer’s love letter is not a legal part of the offer, and it may not even be factual. Discuss adding a ‘will not read’ statement in the listing with the offer directions, which would, in addition, prevent buyers from being frustrated at the last minute when their carefully crafted letter would not be considered.

Although sellers can indeed research a potential buyer themselves and apply their selection criteria, as real estate professionals, we should be cautious not to enable any party to undermine the principles of fair housing in Canada. In addition, agents should care that love letters introduce more uncertainty and less tangible criteria into the home buying process. It is our job to promote and protect our clients – both in equal measure.

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