In case you haven’t noticed, we are in a robust seller’s market. Inventory is in extremely short supply. Some buyers are desperate to win the multiple contract battle and have resorted to various tactics to get their contract accepted.
Recently, an agent told me about the increase in companion letters. What’s a companion letter? When the buyer submits a contract on a popular listing they sometimes include an explanation letter as a companion to the contract that explains why their family needs to live in the house. The buyer will often cite educational or medical needs.
While these letters still seem to be rare, they are very common out west. A recent client from Seattle told me that they received multiple booklets with each offer that even included drawings by the buyers’ children showing them living in the house. The pictures even included the family pets. Nothing like a tug on the heart strings!
So are the letters legal? Is there a risk of fair housing violations and does the companion letter have to be presented by the listing agent to the seller? First, there is nothing illegal about including the letter with the offer. The buyer can and should do everything they can to present their offer in the most favorable light. However, the buyer does run the risk of alienating some sellers who may be offended that the tactic was used. The letter does not violate fair housing as long as the seller does not refuse to sell the house to someone based on their familial status, race, color, creed, national origin or sex. Keep in mind that singles are not a protected class under fair housing laws. So it is not a violation of the fair housing laws to sell a house to someone because they have children. But the seller can’t refuse to sell a house to someone because they are a family.
Lastly, as you know, South Carolina state law requires a real estate agent to present all offers to their client. It can be argued that the companion letter is a part of the offer and therefore must be submitted to the client. If the real estate agent does not present the letter, the buyer could allege the agent failed to present the entire offer. Moreover, the seller could also argue it would have affected their decision. Absent offensive language or content, the real estate agent should present the companion letter.
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Photo by Phil Scoville