“Family Friendly” Fair housing questions Realtors cannot answer

I wrote a story in March that discusses the same issues as the NYTimes story yesterday.

The strict interpretation of fair-housing laws prohibits brokers from providing information about people that could be construed as discriminatory in any of 14 protected categories. The categories include familiar ones like race, religion, sex and disabilities and less well-known ones like familial status, marital status, citizenship and occupation. (ed. note: I honestly had no idea “occupation” was a protected class)

So a broker who says something like, “There are tons of little kids in this building ” it’s really family friendly – could be accused of specifically steering families to the building and driving people without children away from it.

Personally, when my family was looking for a new home, we wanted to know whether there were any kids in the neighborhood (this was a good thing for us), so I understand clients’ needs and wants, but unfortunately cannot offer guidance in this area.  (hint: look for balls, bikes, swings and other “kid-friendly” stuff) People looking for a house/a neighborhood have to do what we did: drive around the neighborhood, talk to home owners who live there. That said, I’ve heard the argument that when working as a Buyer-Broker, I should have the freedom and leeway to guide my clients as they direct.  One side of me leans towards the latter interpretation, but the more paranoid part of me acknowledges that the possibility of being sued or losing my license is not worth the risk.

It pays to be consistent, because –

It doesn’t matter how innocuous the question is. The trap is once you’ve asked it, you set yourself up for the charge that a rejection is based on that information.

The prevalence of the perception that “family friendly” is acceptable (if most people think it’s ok, why is it not?) is even shown at Google’s Local Business Center, where I was updating my listing.

Google Family Homes

Side note: I received an email lead the Saturday from some people who are thinking about relocating to the Charlottesville area. When I told them that I was out of town for the week but would be happy to refer them to another competent Realtor in my office, they balked. Not because they had built a specific passive relationship with me because of my blog, but because they didn’t want to work with a female. Upon further conversation, they said that they would prefer to choose with whom they work, which is fine. Personally, I’d rather choose the right professional based on experience, competence, knowledge of the market, recommendations from past clients – but choosing my Realtor based on gender? I don’t get it.

Update 6/25/2007: It seems that much of the talk about this article is naturally centered in New York. Matrix, True Gotham and Property Grunt.

Update 7/1/2007: Jay has a related article – “Where are the Good Schools?

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  1. Geno Petro June 28, 2007 at 10:06

    Very interesting read. It’s not politically or legally correct to say much these days as a Realtor–or so it seems. I wonder how many of us do the above mentioned things anyway in our property searches, recommendations, negotiations etc…but just don’t verbalize them?

  2. Erin July 1, 2007 at 15:08

    At this rate, it won’t be OK to “discriminate” against houses based on their physical features (brick vs. siding, ranch vs. 2-story colonial).

  3. Jim Duncan July 1, 2007 at 22:44

    Erin –

    That kind of cynicism is not appreciated, as it very well may come true. 🙂

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