Real estate agents have an ethical and fiduciary responsibility to promote fairness in the way their clients and others are treated. According to Dr. Lee Davenport, asking questions and supporting clients are key elements in becoming an active advocate for fair housing in your market.
Prior to 1968, federal fair housing legislation did not exist in its modern form. Thankfully, there have been various additions like HUD expanding just last year the protected class of “sex” to now include (finally) “gender identity” and “sexual orientation.”
Yet, unfortunately, despite how often we hear the phrase “fair housing,” the actual application of fair housing is not yet so part of our culture that it is intuitive — it is not yet like breathing that comes automatically.
Case in point, the 2021 Fair Housing Trends Report by the National Fair Housing Alliance found over 28,000 fair housing violations reported in the previous calendar year. That speaks to how fair housing still requires a concerted, collective effort despite being in our legal lexicon.
Laws are great! But real estate pros have to be fair housing advocates, what I like to call Fair Housing D.E.C.O.D.E.R.S.©
What do I mean?
Fair Housing laws are wonderful and necessary (check out this map of state-based fair housing laws that specifically protect LGBTQ people). Nonetheless, they are not magic.
I have been privileged to teach my course on How to be a Fair Housing D.E.C.O.D.E.R.© throughout the nation and I love the unison sound of “Ooo, yeah, that makes sense!” when I mention shows like Dateline. These shows highlight that just because something is illegal (like murder, which is featured in many of the episodes that I have seen of Dateline), violations do not just magically stop.
Instead, laws mean that if there is proof that the violation occurred, there is a possibility of a penalty and/or restitution. However, that’s a big if.
Unfortunately, Fair Housing is not the magical exception. As I always say, laws do not stop un-fair housing but Fair Housing D.E.C.O.D.E.R.S.© can — that should be each and every real estate professional.
How can real estate pros be Fair Housing D.E.C.O.D.E.R.S.©?
It starts with a very simple yet impactful coaching technique: Asking questions.
Asking questions may seem basic, but questions are extremely impactful in interrupting unconscious or implicit associations (a.k.a. implicit bias but as an instructor, I purposefully use the word “association” instead of “bias” since the latter has a negative connotation and can alienate).
In order to work towards a more equitable experience for all, we real estate pros have to be willing to proactively confront un-fair housing. The starting point is simply asking more questions — questions that signify we want to hold and be held accountable — that center/promote fair housing, not just solely making the Forbes list.
Speaking of the Forbes list, quiet as it is kept, we can start incentivizing real estate pros to outdo each other in regards to fair housing by offering fair housing awards. Our industry is already acquainted with top producer’s ceremonies, so let’s add to our award lists and banquets categories like Top Fair Housing Advocate, Most Improved Vendor in Fair Housing (this is for those that may have had a bad rep at one point but there should be opportunities for improvement and redemption) and the like.
Notably, the LGBTQ+ Real Estate Alliance found “the most visible examples over the last three years of home buying discrimination” were:
- Real estate professionals discriminating against LGBTQ+ buyers
- Purchase-related forms
- Discriminatory sellers
Translation: Those are all areas that can improve when we are proactively Fair Housing DECODERS, y’all!
I was honored to be quoted in a fair housing post that discussed this second annual LGBTQ+ Real Estate Report by The LGBTQ+ Real Estate Alliance on ApartmentTherapy.com. In that article, Juan Luis Sanchez, who is president of Bear Facts Realty in Denver, Colorado, echoed my sentiments by saying, “Often, it’s simply a case of asking questions sans judgment.”
According to the article, “Sanchez is gay, Hispanic and Native American, and started Bear Facts Realty in 2020 to cater to the needs of clients who were being underserved by traditional real estate companies.”
Here are a few powerful questions we can ask of ourselves, other real estate pros (e.g. agents, brokers, lenders, appraisers, inspectors, etc.), home sellers, homebuyers, landlords and anyone else involved in the process:
- Why don’t I work in that neighborhood?
- Why was she/he/they turned down?
- What do you mean by that?
- How does this serve the LBGTQIA+ community?
- Would you like to file a report?
Unfortunately, a simple question, like “Would you like to file a report?” is often not asked nor are steps given to help frustrated clients do so (as reported by NFHA).
Fair Housing D.E.C.O.D.E.R.S.© can and should demystify making a report by:
- Believing their clients and customers instead of rationalizing why the fair housing violator (e.g. seller, agent, appraiser, lender) is probably “not doing it on purpose.”
- Helping them challenge the issue with verifiable “receipts”(e.g. proof of the value being more with recent comps).
- If no resolution from step 2, encourage clients to go to a supervisor and get a second opinion from a different pro/firm (perhaps with a tester/stand-in of a different protected class) if the supervisor is unresponsive.
- If no resolution from step 3, help clients/customers file a complaint with HUD (along with other agencies — see list below) and share it with the local news:
Make sure your firm and preferred partners actively recruit diverse staff, appraisers, etc. across all protected classes (focusing on those underrepresented) and have a strategy to confront un-fair housing; replace them if they don’t!
With our sellers (and other clients), we can proactively discuss fair housing and include in our client presentations forms for clients to pledge fair housing like this form:
For even more necessary questions, please check out my complimentary infographic of questions that every Fair Housing D.E.C.O.D.E.R.S.© should ask regularly at this link.