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What a Nice Family! A Picture May Say a Thousand Words About Fair Housing
In this current market characterized by tight inventory, many buyers have tried to gain an edge by submitting a photo of their family along with a personal letter with their offer to purchase. Buyers and their agents believe that a family photo will tug at sellers’ heart strings and encourage them to accept the offer.

This practice could violate Fair Housing Laws. These letters could be providing information about protected classes under the law. Including a photograph of the buyers can give unessential information like race, familial status, or sex. It is against Fair Housing Laws to base the selection, or rejection of a buyer based on a protected class.
 
While some sellers may want “a nice family” to buy their home, it is a violation of Fair Housing Laws to pick a buyer based solely on their familial status. When personal letters accompany offers, sellers run the risk of liability in violating Fair Housing Laws. It is crucial that both the listing agent and the buyer’s agent work together to avoid either party violating the Fair Housing Act.

What if the seller asks the listing agent to collect photos from potential buyers?
Asking for a photograph could be a veiled attempt at discrimination. If the agent is concerned that the seller may want to exclude buyers based on a protected class, they should point out the protected classes in the listing contract. A seller cannot screen homebuyer prospects with the intent to discriminate based upon a protected class. Agents should avoid risk by not being a party to a seller’s discriminatory actions.
Multiple Offers
With prices rising and interest rates low, multiple offers are becoming more frequent in many markets. Here is the right way to handle them:

First, present all offers as objectively and quickly as possible.

Second, if you are asked about them by a buyer or cooperating broker and if the seller has given you approval, disclose the existence of all offers, as well as their source.

The Code of Ethics Addresses the disclosure of offers (and accepted offers) under the following standards of practice:

  • Standard of Practice 1-15 - REALTORS®, in response to inquiries from buyers or cooperating brokers shall, with the sellers’ approval, disclose the existence of offers on the property. Where disclosure is authorized, REALTORS® shall also disclose, if asked, whether offers were obtained by the listing licensee, another licensee in the listing firm, or by a cooperating broker. 

  • Standard of Practice 3-6 - REALTORS® shall disclose the existence of accepted offers, including offers with unresolved contingencies, to any broker seeking cooperation. 

We hope you enjoyed Issue #13 of Ethics Exchange 2020 brought to you by the Greater Milwaukee Association of REALTORS® (GMAR). The GMAR created this newsletter, each issue dedicated to a unique issue, because the REALTOR® Code of Ethics, on which our industry is built, is the foundation of what it means to be a REALTOR®.
Your proactive support of the Code of Ethics will assure your fellow REALTORS®, as well as members of the public, that every member of GMAR operates under the highest ethical standards.
Questions, comments or concerns regarding this issue can be directed to
Scott Bush at the GMAR Office (414-778-4929 or scott@gmar.ws).