Over the years, Portlander Kate Fulford has seen more than of her share of love letters.
Not the romantic kind, bound up in ribbon, smelling faintly of lilac and sighs, and stashed in an attic trunk, ideally to be found one day by unsuspecting future generations.
Fulford, a realtor with Think Real Estate, is talking about the kind of letters that would-be buyers write to try and sway sellers in a hot real estate market like Portland’s, the kind that includes family pictures and promises to hang a swing from the apple tree in the backyard.
“We have used it in the past to pull heartstrings,” Fulford says. “Like, here is this single mom, she just got divorced, wants her kids to stay in the same school district, so this would be perfect for her—it was trying to give a reason to pick our offer if the prices were similar.”
But the letters gnawed away at Fulford, making her worry and wonder whether they were just a tool to perpetuate carbon copy neighborhoods, in clear violation of the federal Fair Housing Act.
Turns out, the Oregon Legislature agrees. The state has just become the first in the nation to ban the practice of letters from prospective buyers to sellers. Starting January of 2022, buyers and sellers cannot communicate in any way that will reveal the buyer’s race, skin color, sex, religion, sexual orientation, nationality, familial status or marital status. And the state’s move could be just the first domino to fall; reporting on the change, a blog geared toward real estate professionals headlined its story, “Is this the beginning of the end of love letters?”
Especially in an overheated market like Portland’s, where inventory is low and sellers are typically choosing from among multiple offers, Fulford said it is not surprising that sellers are moved by personal details, above and beyond the terms of an offer. To counter that, she first quit allowing her clients to submit photos when making an offer, then stopped using the letters altogether even before discussion of the new Oregon law surfaced. She was motivated, she said, by concerns about housing fairness and potential liability if sellers deliberately rejected offers based on telling details in a love letter.
Instead, Fulford says, she writes a cover letter with every offer, singling out the specifics of what her clients love about an individual home—an architectural archway, a big kitchen, a garden—without revealing any personal details.
Still, she worried that doing away with the letters was putting her clients at a disadvantage, so she was gratified by the passage of the new law. Now, everyone is on an equal playing field.
Of course, prospective sellers can still easily Google the names of their would-be buyers and get the goods. (Is redacting names on offers the next reform?) And Fulford acknowledged that love letters have helped some disadvantaged buyers get in the door in the past; under the new system, all-cash offers or those with the most attractive terms could get the automatic nod, even more so than now.
So what’s a desperate buyer to do? “Focus on the house and what you love about it,” Fulford advises. “People become attached to their space,” she says. “They want a steward to appreciate and love their house the way that they would have.”