With the New York City sales market hitting a fevered pace, buyers may be reaching for ways to stand out. Traditionally that's been done by writing a classic “love letter” to gush about the apartment and convince sellers to pick you.
If that’s your inclination as a buyer today, don’t be surprised if your broker is less than enthusiastic about the idea—or even cautions you against writing one altogether. That’s because brokers are more aware these days of how these letters can violate Fair Housing Act protections for race, religion, familial status, and more.
Some NYC brokers that Brick spoke to are discouraging these letters after taking Fair Housing courses when renewing their licenses. It’s guidance that’s in line with an update from the National Association of Realtors last year, which cautioned that these letters pose fair housing risks because they share personal information “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.”
Brokers and sellers are the ones who could face penalties if a buyer is discriminated against. A civil penalty for a Fair Housing violation can be up to $16,000, not including court costs or fees, according to this article, which notes that Oregon became the first state in the U.S. to ban these letters.
If you’re a buyer who is dead set on writing a letter, it should be benign and not reveal personal details about yourself, says Jennifer Roberts, a broker at Engel and Völkers, who suggests focusing your attention on the apartment instead to stay on the right side of the rules.
She recommends communicating what you love about the place. “You could say, 'I love your art collection,' or your furniture, or your beautiful kitchen,” she says. “You could say, 'you have great taste.'”
“It’s a fine line today,” she says. “A lot of buyers are unaware that there are things that shouldn’t be in these letters. This is why your broker might say not to do it.”
Need more guidance on what not to say—and what you can say? Here are some dos and don’ts.
Don’t say: “I can see our family celebrating many Christmas mornings around your fireplace.”
Why it’s problematic: This is the classic example of what not to do: You’re pointing out your religion, which could put the seller and the brokers in an awkward position of discriminating on the basis of religion.
You can say: “I can see our family enjoying many celebrations and holidays around your fireplace.”
Don’t say: “We love the large size of your apartment. It’s perfect for our growing family.”
Why it’s problematic: You’re referencing familial status in an effort to get the seller to choose you.
You can say: “We love the large size of your kitchen (or media room or balcony, etc.) It’s perfect for our foodie (or movie fan or plant lover).”
Don’t say: “Your apartment is in a great location—it’s really close to P.S. 101, which we want our child to attend.”
Why it’s problematic: The school you mention is lily white, and you could be signaling your race with this comment.
You can say: “Your apartment is in a great location—because it’s a five minute walk to the subway” or “we love art and it’s within a few blocks of several museums.”
Don’t do: Here’s a photo of us.
Why it’s problematic: You could be considered to be putting your race on display in an attempt to win over the seller.
You can do: Nothing. Just skip the photo.
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