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Possible Discrimination

Dear Phyllis,
I am the trustee of my aunt’s estate. As you can appreciate, clearing out her home takes awhile. In the meantime, I have had two neighbors approach me, asking me to please hire a Realtor to find the right type of buyer for the neighborhood. They each gave me several names of Realtors they felt met that criteria. I told both neighbors I had already engaged an agent and appreciated their “concern.” I live in a very diverse community and feel this borders on discrimination.

Dear Cautious,
While it’s thoughtful to consider and appreciate the input of your neighbors, it’s ultimately your responsibility as the trustee of your aunt’s estate to make decisions regarding the sale of the property. You have a fiduciary duty to the estate to sell this home for the highest possible price.

I don’t want to cast aspersions, but this is a fine line. The Federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing against persons in protected classes. Protected classes include color, ancestry, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and/or expression, primary language, immigration status, military/veteran status and age.

This is why real estate “love letters” (introduction letters to sellers from buyers) are not encouraged. Photos of families could possibly entice a seller to choose a family over a single person or childless couple. To avoid the appearance of discrimination, when using a personal letter to the seller, it should not include photos. But what about marital status, children, no children? Who is to say that a choice was not made favoring a buyer with children over a nontraditional household?

I don’t know how an agent could ensure that your aunt’s home is sold to the “right type of buyer for the neighborhood” without being discriminatory. I don’t believe giving the “right buyer” the opportunity to match the price of a higher buyer’s offer would be appropriate solely because the listing agent did not feel the buyer was “right for the neighborhood.” On the other hand, I have discussed with my seller clients allowing a stronger offer due to better terms, such as fewer contingencies and allowing the stronger buyer to match the price of a higher offer with more contingencies. But this has nothing to do with who will fit into the neighborhood, it has to do with terms.