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Love Letters or Liability Letters?
Buyer love letters are a tactic used by some buyers in an attempt to stand out to a seller, especially in hot markets with low inventory and bidding wars. Seemingly harmless, these letters actually raise fair housing concerns, and could open real estate professionals and their clients to fair housing violations.
To entice a seller to choose their offer, buyers sometimes write “love letters” to describe the many reasons why the seller should “pick them.” While this may seem harmless, these letters can actually pose fair housing risks because they often contain personal information and reveal characteristics of the buyer, such as race, religion, or familial status, which could then be used, knowingly or through unconscious bias, as an unlawful basis for a seller’s decision to accept or reject an offer.
Consider where a potential buyer writes to the seller that they can picture their children running down the stairs on Christmas morning for years to come in the house. This statement not only reveals the potential buyer’s familial status, but also their religion, both of which are protected characteristics under fair housing laws. Using protected characteristics as a basis to accept or reject an offer, as opposed to price and terms, would violate the Fair Housing Act.
Before the next time you are faced with a buyer love letter, consider these best practices to protect yourselves and your clients from fair housing liability:
- Educate your clients about the fair housing laws and the pitfalls of buyer love letters.
- Inform your clients that you will not deliver buyer love letters, and advise others that no buyer love letters will be accepted as part of the MLS listing.
- Remind your clients that their decision to accept or reject an offer should be based on objective criteria only.
- If your client insists on drafting a buyer love letter, do not help your client draft or deliver it.
- Avoid reading any love letter drafted or received by your client.
- Document all offers received and the seller’s objective reason for accepting an offer.
Source: National Association of REALTORS® (NAR)
New Gathering and Mask Guidance from the Department of Health and Human Services
On October 29, 2020, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued a new order regulating “gatherings” which it defines as “any occurrence where two or more persons from more than one household are present in a shared space.” If there is a “gathering,” the order applies wherever the gathering occurs (i.e., whether in a public space or at a private residence). A summary of the general limitations under that order is as follows:
Masks are required unless the gathering is occurring at someone’s residence, where masks are recommended. In all cases, event organizers are required to ensure 6 feet of distance between persons who are not members of the same household. A “mask” must be a tightly-woven cloth or other multi-layer absorbent material that closely covers a person’s face and mouth. The order lists exemptions from mask requirements and says businesses must deny entry or service to any nonexempt person who is not wearing a mask (but may rely on verbal representation that the person is exempt from the mask wearing requirement).
A. If a gathering is indoors:
- For residential gatherings, up to 10 people are permitted. Masks are recommended, not required, if the event occurs at a residence; otherwise, required.
- For non-residential venues with “fixed seating,” the limit is 20% of the seating capacity (no more than 500 people).
- For non-residential venues without “fixed seating,” the limit is 20 persons per 1,000 square feet (no more than 50 people).
- Gatherings of more than 500 people indoors are prohibited regardless of the size of the facility.
- In nonresidential venues, if people are seated at tables, the number of people at a table must not exceed 6 and tables must be six feet apart.
B. If a gathering is outdoors:
- Up to 100 people are permitted at a residence. Masks are recommended if the event is at a residence; otherwise required.
- At a non-residential venue with fixed seating, the limit is 30% of capacity (no more than 1,000 people).
- At a non-residential venue without fixed seating, there is a limit of 30 persons per 1,000 square feet (no more than 1,000 people).
- Gatherings of more than 1,000 people are prohibited.
- If people are seated at tables, the number of people at a table must not exceed 6 and tables must be six feet apart.
Since the occupancy limitations outlined above apply to residences as well as public spaces, it would appear that the DHHS order DOES apply to showings and open houses. Keep in mind that under the new order, it is the responsibility of the event organizer to enforce the 6-foot social distancing requirement. In addition, we continue to encourage Realtors® throughout the State to follow the best practices as outlined in MR’s showing addendums:
Recommended Practices for Sellers Permitting Showings and/or Open Houses
- If at all possible, Sellers should not be present during showings or open houses.
- Prior to any scheduled showing or open house, Sellers should turn on all lights and leave interior doors, drapes and blinds open. This will ensure that anyone entering the home will not need to touch light switches/doorknobs.
- Prior to and after any showing or open house, Sellers should clean and disinfect all frequently touched surfaces, such as doorknobs, handles, light switches and countertops.
Recommended Practices for Buyers During Showings
- Buyers attending showings/visits should meet their agents at the property and wait in their car for the agent to arrive.
- Buyers should not bring anyone to the showing who does not need to view the property. All adults attending the showing should sign a Showing Certification and Release.
- Buyers should not touch any surfaces in the property. Buyers should not turn off lights or close interior doors. They should not share phones, pens, tablets etc. with anyone else attending the showing.
- Buyers are encouraged to wear gloves and masks while viewing a home. Buyers should use hand sanitizer immediately prior to entering the home and upon exiting prior to getting into their car.
- Buyers should minimize the time physically present at a home.
Many local health departments have issued their own rules, and Realtors® are strongly encouraged to check in their area.
Source: Michigan REALTORS®
Legal Lines - Question of the Month
QUESTION: My buyer put in an offer on a home. The listing agent texted me and told me that the price offered was so low that the seller was not going to counter. The listing agent and I exchanged text messages back and forth while consulting verbally with our respective clients. Eventually, we agreed on a price. The listing agent’s last text to me was “Looks like we have a deal.” Now I am told that the sellers have accepted another offer. Can they do that?
ANSWER: Yes. In order to have a binding agreement for the sale of real estate, there must be a written agreement signed by the parties – in this case, the buyer and seller. Conversations between the agents via phone/text/email can move the negotiations forward quickly but you must always keep in mind that these are preliminary discussions that are not binding.
Source: Michigan REALTORS® (MR)
Window to the Law:
Preventing Cybercrime During COVID-19
With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing the world to become more virtual, cybersecurity is more important than ever. By being informed and staying vigilant, real estate professionals can protect themselves and their clients from cybercrime.
GET TIPS ON PREVENTION BY CLICKING HERE
Source: National Association of REALTORS® (NAR)
Fall 2020: Recovering, Rebuilding, Rebalancing
The fall edition of On Common Ground explores how decision makers, developers and homeowners are taking action now to preserve the viability of their property and structures into the future. The articles that follow spotlight action at the local level, building resilience, efficient homes, and resilient economies, as well as the value of open space in absorbing the impacts of extreme weather and the embedded value of smart growth development as an inherently resilient style of development.
You may click HERE to read more
Source: National Association of REALTORS® (NAR)
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