Sunday, November 6, 2011

House Hunting and Privilege

When we first started looking for houses one of the first pieces of advice we got was to write a letter to any potential sellers. Really ham it up - tell them that we look forward to raising our children in the house, send a photo of us and the cats, etc. Apparently a friend of ours - who sent a photo of himself and a pretend wife along with his letter - got a house in this manner, despite the fact that there was a higher offer.

I hate to admit it but at first I thought this might be a good idea. D and I are attractive, our cats are cute, who wouldn't want to sell their home to us? Anything to gain an edge and get what we want, right? Thankfully I have D$ - level-headed, fair, "just give me the numbers" D$ - whose swift and disgusted refusal helped me understand what I was really proposing.

D$ and I are a white, straight couple. We are in a monogamous relationship and want to have children. We fit exactly the mold that mainstream America considers acceptable, safe, and expected. The mold whose ubiquity in American culture and media makes life harder for anyone for whom it does not fit. That letter we could send? It would say (to what, in Portland, is highly likely to be a white seller):  "Sell your house to us because we look like you. Sell your house to us because we fit your expectations of "nice people." Sell your house to us because we are white. Sell your house to us because we are straight. Sell your house to us because we deserve it more (because our orientation and lifestyle do not make you nervous).

And this? This is a thing I will not do. My whole life I have benefited from who I am.  Yes, it was without my choosing, but that does not erase the fact that my white, straight privilege is undoubtedly key to the fact that I am even in the position of being able to buy a house at the age of 29. Knowing this, I will not chose to forcibly wield that privilege in order to knock any potential competitors off the playing field.


  1. Wow, I have never heard that advice before. B and I sold the house we lived in before we moved to AZ and we never received such letters. When we first moved to AZ we considered buying a house and even met with a realtor. We were never offered this advice. Is it a Portland thing or am I just out of that particular loop, I wonder.

  2. I've heard of this, but only in cases where there are two really close competing offers, that writing a letter to the sellers in order to kind of make you stand out as *people* as opposed to just numbers on a page . . . never really thought about it in this context before.

  3. Everything about this amazes me. Also, you are fabulous.