Guest Writer October 03, 2020
David Oliphant is the owner of Ocean Blue Real Estate and is a member of the California.com Recommended Business Program, which highlights only the best businesses in the Golden State. To be featured, each business must be highly regarded, have a unique California story, and make a positive impact in their community.
In very competitive real estate markets such as Northern California, many buyers feel compelled to write a “buyer’s letter” telling sellers who they are and why they might be the perfect buyer for their home. I’ve always been a fan of them, and I’ve never seen them hurt.
Or have I….
While some listing agents might not be a fan of a personal letter from the buyers, as it might distract from the offer itself, I always ask my sellers what they would like to see. For many sellers, it’s important to know who might be buying their family home; they have loved the years they’ve spent in their home, and they want the next family to love it, too. I’ve also had sellers tell me that they don’t want to see the letter. For them, it’s about the highest offer and the quality of the transaction above all else. Both are totally understandable, and both are right.
But if there is steep competition on a home, a buyer’s letter can be a great way for buyers to get an edge up on other competing offers. Their letter may include a cute picture of the family with the dog, on the beach—the perfect shot! In some cases, a buyer’s letter may help to sway a seller’s decision when the buyer is unable to provide monetarily. I’ve recently experienced three situations where sellers picked the buyer they felt would best fit their home, which was not necessarily the highest offer. One of the buyer’s agents could not believe it when I told them that my clients selected another family that offered $50,000 under their client’s offer, but it was true—my clients loved the other family’s story and selected them to be the next caretakers of their family home. We received three offers that day, and only one buyer had written a letter.
An unfortunate issue that can arise with buyer’s letters is that of discrimination. The idea that someone would discriminate against a potential buyer based on their buyer’s letter never even crossed my mind in the past, but apparently, it is something that is happening across the country. Imagine if a buyer's letter was from a class of citizens considered “less than” in a seller’s eyes: a family of color, an LGBTQ+ family, an immigrant family, or someone considered “not from here”—they might automatically be ruled out as a potential buyer. Even if the seller does not realize they are doing it, the thought may still exist on a subconscious level and thus impact their decision.
Other examples may be something as innocent as kids versus no kids, or a single-parent household versus two parents, etc. These days, families are very different from what was advertised as the “norm” in previous times. Or, what if the picture was of an “all-American Caucasian family”—does someone’s thinking shift in any way, even unknowingly? What if someone is wearing clothing of a political party in their picture—would that sway your thinking at all, especially in today’s world? I think on some level, we can all imagine it happening, unfortunately.
We may again find a day in real estate where no buyer’s letters are allowed, only the paperwork on which the offer is written. In this case, all a seller would see is a buyer's name. Again, there still exists the opportunity for discrimination within transactions. What if it’s an “international” name or something that sounds foreign or hard to pronounce? Even unknowingly, does that cause you to be curious or form an opinion of someone? It’s a newer, heightened way of consciously thinking.
Bringing awareness to the equal treatment of individuals regardless of color, race, gender identity, family status, personal beliefs, political status—whatever might be considered “different”—is the very cornerstone of ensuring that the values and lessons of progress made within our country are sustained. As professional realtors, we play a fundamental role in advocating and ensuring that those values are upheld and searching out ways to make both sides of the transaction comfortable and respectful for one another. As individuals, it is our responsibility to recognize and encourage equality not only in real estate, but in the real world, too.