Perfect pitch may hit the wrong chord of law

(Source: the U.S. National Archives)

The headline went like this:

“Can I Buy Your House, Pretty Please?”

In the Wall Street Journal, the article by Joann S. Lublin noted that the housing market has changed in some areas.  As the subheading observed:

With inventory tight and prices rising, buyers in competitive markets like Silicon Valley and Seattle are returning to a boom-era tactic: writing heartfelt letters to sellers explaining why they should win the house. Signing with a paw print.

The piece is accurate in pointing out that an emotionally charged letter from a buyer can sway a seller who is considering more than one offer.

Referring to the missives as “pitch letters” or “love letters,” Lublin correctly reported that they often work.  To be honest, I have encouraged some buyers to write them, especially during the years of a red-hot market when I was a real estate broker in the D.C. area.  They helped a lot.

Here in New York recently, clients of mine won a nearly $2 million bid on a condo because the seller happened to have been informed that the couple had once owned an apartment in their foreign city and that one of them was an artist.

But pitch letters skate on the edge of the federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of  race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status and disability.

States and cities have added their own prohibitions such as sexual orientation.  One other common bar to considering a buyer or tenant is occupation — for example, it against the law in D.C. to discrimination against lawyers, of which there is, of course, no shortage in that jurisdiction.

When a broker transmits a pitch letter from someone extolling their family or their connection to a community because of its concentration of residents who share their religion or nationality, you can see where the document can occupy a grey area of the Fair Housing Act.  Those are a couple of examples.

Such a letter implicitly endorses discrimination.

My concern is less that it happens since little of that kind of discrimination strikes me as mean-spirited or contrary to the spirit of the law.  My concern is that nowhere in her article did Lublin raise the issue.

Tomorrow: One is loneliest number

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Malcolm Carter
Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker
Senior Vice President
Charles Rutenberg Realty
127 E. 56th Street
New York, NY 10022

M: 347-886-0248
F: 347-438-3201
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