Real Estate

Dear Judge: A Love Letter about Real Estate Love Letters

Unpacking the legal twists and turns over the state's first-in-the-nation ban on letters from prospective homebuyers

By Julia Silverman December 1, 2021

Just when you thought those real estate love letters were a relic....

When Oregon became the country’s first state to ban so-called “love letters” from home buyers eager to stand out to deluged sellers, for a moment it looked like the state would touch off a trend.

The intent was to ensure that the Fair Housing Act wasn’t being violated—that sellers weren’t swayed by photos of apple-cheeked babies or perpetuating “systemic issues of bias,” per the sponsor of the new ban, Rep. Mark Meek, a Democrat from Clackamas County who is himself a Realtor.

Then came the lawyers.

An injunction filed on behalf of Bend-based Total Real Estate Group—which bills itself as a midsized, boutique firm in a market that’s consistently ranked as one of the country’s busiest—is now seeking to reverse course on the love letter ban, on the grounds that it unfairly disadvantages small potatoes buyers and their agents, violating their free speech and throwing an advantage to deep-pocketed institutional buyers or house flippers looking for a quick investment.

It got us thinking: What is an injunction, really, but a love letter to a judge? Who is Total Real Estate Group, other than a bunch of Realtors, standing in front of a judge, asking them to rule in their favor? 

In fact, when you dive into the injunction, filed by lawyers for the Pacific Legal Foundation, a California-based firm that crusades against purported government intrusion into everyday life, it starts to sound increasingly familiar. Here, we’ve pulled out the choicest bits so you don’t have to (plus, okay, added a few embellishments of our own. If it’s footnoted, then it’s directly from the complaint).

Dear Judge:

First, can we just express our sincere gratitude about being able to be in your space. We’ve been picturing ourselves, approaching the bench for a cozy chat, or addressing the jury in your open concept courtroom, with plenty of natural light and built in audience seating. These are the kind of details worth noticing, lingering over, and appreciating. And believe us, we've noticed.

We’re here today to discuss the real estate love letter. As you know, Judge, such letters might describe “the buyer’s captivation with the view of the sunset out a living room window, their excitement about nearby hiking trails, or their plans for using a reading nook on the second floor.”[1]

Don’t be fooled, Judge, by the state of Oregon’s attempts to ban such letters, which would have you believe that the home-buying process—did we mention how nice you look in that robe? Hope to have one of our own someday!—is little more than “an impersonal process, little different from purchasing groceries at the self-checkout machine.”[2]

Judge, you know, and we know, how much more it really is. (See how simpatico we are? Kind of makes you want to rule in our favor, no?) After all, “this is not simply speech about buying a widget or article of clothing from Walmart. The home has long held a special place in our culture and our law, as per City of Ladue v. Gilleo, 512 U.S. 43, 58 (1994). Speech related to this fundamental institution deserves the same solemn regard.”[3]

There are many reasons, Judge, why so-called love letters shouldn’t be banned, like allowing sellers to glean crucial information about prospective buyers, because the Internet is not a viable alternative for doing research like this for anyone who might feel such an urge.

“Furthermore, love letters allow a buyer to express unique reasons why a property might be a good fit…Perhaps a buyer wants to express his love of dogs and the major benefit close access to a dog park gives him. Or perhaps a prospective buyer enjoys gardening and wants to tell the seller that the sun hits the backyard just right to grow prize-winning tomatoes.”[4]

In conclusion, Judge, have you seen this picture of us with our pet, out back in our garden, next to our tomato plant?  Our doggo—such a good boy!—loves the park right next to the courthouse, and we hope to have many more afternoons spent there together before returning to your courtroom, this place of peace and refuge.

Most absolutely very truly and completely yours, especially if you take our side*,

The Lawyers

*Read: Sell us your house. Right now. 

[1]Total Real Estate Group LLC v Steve Strode and Ellen Rosenblum (2021), Case 3:21-cv-01677-AC.

[2] Ibid, page 2.

[3] Ibid, page 3

[4] Ibid, page 9

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