Real Estate

Does Fairhaven, NAR’s Fair Housing Simulation, Work?

NAR’s mythical town of Fairhaven is meant to shed a realistic light on discrimination in the industry. But how does it stack up against standard fair housing classes? Here’s one broker’s experience.

I went through the Fairhaven simulation last week. It took about an hour to complete. The simulation is on the National Association of Realtors’ (NAR) website for members only and is a series of scenarios that test and teach fair housing principles.

Fairhaven is the name of a mythical town with mythical neighborhoods and imaginary homebuyers, sellers, real estate agents and companies. Most fair housing classes emphasize what happens if agents get caught breaking the rules instead of explaining the importance and the need for fair housing. Fairhaven shows fair housing from a different point of view.

Within the simulation, the goal is to sell four houses in 26 weeks. I think tying fair housing to sales goals is appropriate. During each scenario, there are examples of subtle and not so subtle discrimination that can hinder or even stop the sale.

What’s more, the simulation encourages advocacy. I found out about this after I was rewarded for advocating for a client. My reward was a closed sale.

It also uses the idea of empathy. There are interruptions in the simulation where the Realtor suddenly becomes the client and faces discrimination. It drives home the point that discrimination in housing impacts real people who have actual lives.

At the end of the simulation and after the four home sales in 26 weeks, I received four scores ranging from 78 percent to 100 percent. The course could be made even better with some specific suggestions on how to improve in any areas where the score was less than 100 percent.

In these simulations, homebuyers complained to managers at real estate companies about how they were treated. They painted a picture of one agent being the most desirable agent to work with based on reputation.

In real life, there are often several or many agents who can — and who will — do an outstanding job working with homebuyers or sellers. Real clients won’t complain about bad service because it’s usually easier to just choose a different agent. People who don’t know any agents can just look for a bus bench or one of the faces next to the listings on the internet.

There was one scenario that I questioned because it featured a seller who may have been racist but there wasn’t really any evidence of racism. In the past few years, I’ve seen a lot of stupid and oblivious behavior. I think it’s important that we get all of the facts before assuming someone’s behavior is racist.

There are common situations that agents face on the job that weren’t covered in the Fairhaven simulation. Like, for example, homebuyers who ask for their homes to be sold to a certain kind of person. The sellers might say they want a family with children in the house because they raised their children in it or perhaps were raised there themselves.

In that situation, we have to explain to our clients why the offer they accept can’t be based on whether or not the buyer has a family with children. That form of discrimination is so common that many homeowners, homebuyers and agents don’t recognize it as a fair housing violation.

Some homeowners would rather work with an agent who will help them sell their home to the right buyer. We all have to learn how to talk to that kind of client. The best approach is to educate the client and explain why we can’t help them discriminate. All to say, I would have liked to see more conversations with homesellers in the simulation.

Real estate salespeople sometimes use scripts and dialogues during presentations to clients. Scripts and dialogues could also be created around fair housing. It isn’t always easy to know just what to say when a client, prospect or colleague presents us with a racist idea.

Several years ago, I had a listing and the seller told me he didn’t want to sell the house to any of “those” people. I carefully explained to him how money works and how one person’s money is as good as another’s. I told him how I would help him achieve his goal of selling the house quickly and for top dollar. I went through my list of what to look for in an offer, and that was the criteria the seller used.

There have been times when I sold houses in the neighborhood, and the neighbors suggested I find the “right” buyer. I’m always happy to help find the right buyer — if right means a buyer who can pay for the house and close without a lot of drama.

Overall, the Fairhaven simulation is far better at teaching fair housing than the standard classes are. It was engaging, and it forced me to think. At times, it felt real, and there was even a little stress with the weeks rolling by with no sales. It’s a refreshing change from fear tactics and memorizing the dates of when various fair housing laws became laws.

Teresa Boardman is a Realtor and broker/owner of Boardman Realty in St. Paul. She is also the founder of

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