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Are fair housing laws falling by the wayside in today’s market?

Love letters are not illegal, but they can pose fair housing issues if done incorrectly.

“Without a love letter, we wouldn’t have been able to find a home as newlyweds because we both are independent contractors.”

“They were able to win the bidding war because they wrote a letter to the seller sharing how much buying this home would mean to their three-generational, Latino family.”

Those are two direct quotes from a recent fair housing course I taught.

In one case, it was the real estate professional that shared how her protected class status was likely the very thing that helped her purchase a home.

In the other instance, the real estate professional shared how her customers kept getting offer after offer rejected until they shared their protected classes in a warm and fuzzy letter with adorable family photos with their pup.

You may be in similar circumstances.

Either you or your customers are attempting to buy homes in a hot housing market. It may feel like:

 “All rules go out the window.”

“Desperate times call for desperate measures” 

The end goal of homeownership is justifiable “by any means necessary.”

In essence, some housing markets can feel like the wild, wild west, where anything goes.

Yet, there are several problems here. Yes, it breaks Fair Housing law to be chosen (or denied) based on a protected class, which includes federally:

  • Disability 
  • Familial (age) 
  • Religion
  • Race 
  • Color 
  • Sex (gender/orientation) 
  • National origin

But we should be concerned with the bigger picture and its implications: 

In invoking various protected classes, we as licensed, trained real estate professionals – who have a fiduciary duty to our clients, the public and the laws of the land – are willing to discriminate, at worst, (or, at least, to look the other way) to close a deal. 

It is one thing to violate a law unintentionally. It is another to do it knowingly. Make no mistake about it, we real estate professionals are charged with knowing the law.

From our Family Feud responses (see part 1 of this series), it is problematic when we do not help our buyer clients navigate sellers’ unconscious (or conscious) biases, particularly when they can impede fair housing for anyone, whether for our clients or the “competition.” 

Did you catch that? Being committed to fair housing is not simply when it is in the best interest of our client.

Sure, we can pull on a home seller’s heart strings by sharing a sob story that illegally focuses on protected classes. But that unethical and illegal act (even if you never get caught), means we are no better than the sleazy memes that people post about real estate professionals.

I want to challenge all real estate professionals to do some genuine soul-searching here: 

Do we believe that all people have the right to choose where they want to live in the U. S. free from discrimination⁣⁣? 

Or, should it only be when they are not competing with us or our clients?

For this reason (that protected classes may be used to illegally one-up others), I am not a fan of ‘love letters.’. 

But ‘love letters’ are not illegal (anymore – Oregon tried) and can speak to your client’s ability to close without any surprises (that’s truly what most sellers want, right?) by listing:

  1. The agent/broker’s:
    1. designations/education
    2. how many similar deals closed 
    3. average days to close speed and 
    4. client testimonies 
      Note: if you are a new real estate pro, share data from your team/firm for these information points as you may not have enough personal data.
  2. The same as number one for the lender, assistance programs, and other partners in the process (your team.)
  3. Other unique resources that your real estate team offers that helps deals to close headache-free, just stay away from mentioning protected classes or anything that alludes to a protected class, like sharing a family photo. (Bonus: Include an explainer on why such information is UN-fair housing)

It is not discussed enough but fair housing is not automatic, despite laws. We understand that easily when it comes to other laws. For instance, if you have every seen Dateline, you know that despite murder and kidnapping being illegal, those crimes still happen, and sometimes the violators never get caught or face a penalty.

Unfortunately, fair housing laws are no different – they can be and sometimes are violated without any restitution. Thus, real estate professionals must be fair housing advocates 24/7 (what I call Fair Housing DECODERS) for everyone in our community, whether clients or not, in hot housing markets or not.

Dr. Lee Davenport is a real estate coach and consultant. Contact her at