Won: State agreed ban violates freedom of speech for real estate brokers and prospective buyers.

At a time when home sales have become a cutthroat business, every bargaining chip matters—to buyers, sellers, and the real estate companies in between. Prospective buyers commonly use so-called “love letters” to move sellers’ hearts—and sales—in their direction.

These conversations give less-privileged buyers a chance at their dream home, which might otherwise be out of reach, while helping sellers ensure their homes are well-loved.

Buying a home is not like buying a pair of pants; it can be a highly personal and emotional transaction for buyers and sellers. Such letters help ensure that all of these other factors are taken into account.

These letters are also integral to the work of Oregon-based Total Real Estate Group, a mid-sized real estate firm with brokers throughout Oregon and Southern Washington. As many as 75% of the firm’s offers have some form of love letter or broker-written cover letter that allows buyers to go beyond the financial offer to tell sellers why they love a home and how they’ll use it.

As one of the firm’s brokers puts it, “Without a love letter, it feels like an incomplete offer.”

And they work. The letters often prompt sales below a seller’s asking price, create many first-time homeowners, and give sellers peace of mind that their home ends up in caring hands rather than an out-of-state, house-flipping investor or developer.

Unfortunately, with a love letter, a transaction is illegal in Oregon, the first state in the nation to ban such communications between homebuyers and sellers. In fact, under the new law, brokers who pass along anything other than standard price and deal terms to sellers could face fines or the loss of their license.

The law’s supporters claim these types of letters could include identifying information about race, sex, religion, or familial status, and lead to discrimination. These supporters, however, could not point to a single confirmed example of the problem. Even if they could, the federal Fair Housing Act already prohibits discrimination based on protected classes without an overly burdensome ban on speech.

Love letters typically involve speech that is neither misleading nor unlawful. The First Amendment protects exactly these sorts of conversations. The government cannot simply ban valuable speech because it might in some cases violate anti-discrimination laws.

For now, brokers are self-censoring. But they’re also fighting back. Represented free of charge by PLF, the Total Real Estate Group is challenging Oregon’s love letter ban in federal court to restore their right to speak freely without irrational, unlawful government censorship.

What’s At Stake?

  • Love letters give buyers a chance at their dream home and help sellers to ensure their homes are well-loved. The First Amendment protects exactly these sorts of conversations.
  • The government cannot simply ban valuable speech because someone might use it to discriminate. Such a speech restriction cannot be justified unless it is absolutely necessary.

Case Timeline

November 19, 2021
United States District Court for the District of Oregon