Real estate brokers in Oregon have filed a court case challenging the constitutionality of the state's ban on real estate love letters.
Those are the personal, sometimes very personal, letters that homebuyers send to sellers to try to convince them that they, in fact, are just the right purchasers for the property involved. They've resulted in confirmed sales, even price breaks, at times.
They often send them through real estate agents.
The trend comes as home prices have surged nationwide and buyers are often left out of the market because of the prices.
The love letters are an opportunity for a hopeful buyer to persuade a seller that her or her desire or need for the residence is special.
The state of Oregon earlier this year adopted a law banning real estate brokers from transmitting "non-financial" communications, in a fear that such letters "might be used to discrimination in housing transactions."
So the Pacific Legal Foundation, citing the lack of evidence of any such discrimination, brought a legal challenge on behalf of a boutique real estate firm with offices in Bend and Portland.
"Love letters are incredibly important for matching buyers and sellers," said Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Daniel Ortner. "Oregon cannot ban valuable speech because someone might use it to discriminate. Such a broad speech restriction is clearly not justified."
It is the Total Real Estate Group that is asking a federal court to restore the right to freely facilitate communication between homebuyers and sellers.
Named as defendants are Steve Strode, the state real estate commissioner, and Ellen Rosenblum, the attorney general.
The filing charges, "Selling or buying a home is more than dollars and cents. Homeowners develop an intimate attachment to the homes where their lives have played out, watching children grow, nurturing relationships with neighbors, and experiencing the tragedies and triumphs of everyday life.
"Likewise, homebuyers look not just for the best deal, but also for a space they can call their own for years to come. Understandably, buyers and sellers often wish to express these personal feelings about the homes in which they have lived or hope to live. Buyers can do this by writing what real estate brokers call a 'love letter,' a personal note to a seller explaining why they love the home they are hoping to make their own," the complaint says.
"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. Sellers often find value in such letters because they want the home they have loved to continue to be loved and cared for in return. A seller also derives more pragmatic value from such letters because they indicate a buyer’s commitment to closing a deal," it continues,
However, Oregon has those banned.
But that makes "this financially and emotionally significant decision into an impersonal process little different from purchasing groceries at the self-checkout machine."
The complaint explains that the lawmakers believed themselves to be avoiding a seller "selecting a buyer based on the buyer’s race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status or familial status as prohibited by the Fair Housing Act."
But that's mere "speculation," the complaint charges.
"Indeed, when bill sponsor Mark Meek testified about the bill, he asked rhetorically whether such letters lead to discrimination. His answer was 'maybe not.' The National Association of Realtors (NAR) has similarly confirmed that it knows of no Fair Housing claim arising from a love letter."
Lawmakers, the complaint explains, should not use "guesswork" on which to base law.
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