top of mind
Don’t Write Me a Love Song
The emotional nature of a buyer’s letter to sellers might help win the
home, but it could be the biggest drawback at the negotiating table.
I had buyer clients once who insisted on
writing a letter to the seller and making the case for why their offer should
be accepted. They went the personal,
emotional route, explaining that they
were meant to own this home because it
had the same colors that they had in their
wedding. The offer itself was strong—it
met the asking price, plus some closing
costs—so I can’t say whether the letter
made a difference when the seller finally
accepted their offer. But it certainly made
a difference down the road when it came
time to negotiate—and the seller refused
When issues arose after inspection,
the seller was none too willing to negotiate, knowing how much my buyers
wanted this house. Because of my buyers’
disclosure of emotional attachment to
the property in their letter, it put them in
a weaker negotiating position. The seller
was able to take advantage of that.
It’s common advice during inventory crunches like the one the market is
experiencing now that buyers write personal letters to sellers to stand out and
increase the chances of having their offer
accepted. But very few recognize the
downside to buyers’ letters: disclosing
information that sellers can use against
buyers at the negotiating table.
There’s no question that the decision
to buy or sell a house is often largely an
emotional one, but we know that emotion
clouds judgment. As an exclusive buyer
agent, I advocate for buyers, protect their
interests, and get them the best deal pos-
sible. In order to do that, I need to take
the emotion out of the buying process, so
that’s why I tell buyers it’s not a good idea
to write a letter to the seller. They tend
not to have much of an effect anyway,
in my experience. Sellers, who are con-
cerned only with their bottom line, ignore
these letters 99 percent of the time. They
take the focus off of the offer, which is the
buyers’ real bargaining chip.
Buyers seek to fall in love with a
house. I remind them that they hired me
to bring them back to Earth, to provide
impartial advice based on facts and on
my expertise in the real estate market. If
we don’t try to rein in buyers’ emotional
decision making, including potentially
exposing their greatest weaknesses to
sellers in letters that were written with
good intentions, we’re not doing our best
to protect their interests. Ultimately, we
can’t control our clients’ decisions, but
we can control the advice we give them.
Furthermore, buyers’ letters could
pose problems with the Fair Housing
Act, which makes it illegal to refuse to
sell or rent to a prospective tenant based
on their race, religion, color, sex, na-
tional origin, family status, or disability.
Consider the letter from a married couple
mentioning that their kids really love the
house, which is close to their church.
Say the letter moves the seller to reject a
higher offer from an unmarried buyer of
a different religion—this might turn into a
Letters can be subpoenaed and used
as evidence, even if there was no discriminatory intent. Sellers, buyer agents,
and listing agents could all be found in
violation of fair housing laws. Initial fines
for a violation start at $10,000—not to
mention legal fees for defending a claim.
Think carefully the next time your buyers say they want to submit a personal
letter with their offer, and tell sellers to
tread cautiously when considering such a
letter. The best advice is to just rip it up.
Christine Smith is an attorney
and associate broker with
Buyers Brokers Only LLC in
Note: Opinions expressed in “Commentary” do not necessarily reflect the position of the National Association of REALTORS® or REALTOR® Magazine.
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If we don’t try to rein in buyers’ emotional
decision making, we’re not doing our best to
protect their interests. We can’t control our
clients’ decisions, but we can control the advice
we give them.