Be a Community Expert without Violating Fair Housing

April 7, 2023

- By Kate Berard

Buyers undoubtedly look to their REALTOR® for community expertise. REALTORS® often field questions about the quality of schools, the kids in the neighborhood and general safety. Answering these questions can be tricky as you walk the line between being an expert resource and violating fair housing and ethical considerations.

The good news? You can both serve your client and adhere to fair housing laws and the REALTOR® Code of Ethics.

What is the Fair Housing concern when discussing neighborhoods and schools? Steering.

Steering occurs when a buyer is directed toward or away from a neighborhood because of a characteristic protected under the Fair Housing Act.

The easiest way steering can occur is when a real estate professional expresses their own opinion. It does not matter whether that view is positive or negative, so long as it has the effect of directing a buyer, for impermissible reasons, toward or away from a particular neighborhood. This can lead to a “housing preference” based on race, national origin, sexual orientation or another protected characteristic. Steering violates both the Fair Housing Act and the REALTOR® Code of Ethics.

Despite the best intentions, implicit bias might inadvertently lead to fair housing violations. The truth is, everyone has some bias – it is human nature. It is natural to filter the world around you through your own experiences. However, you must be aware of how these experiences, these biases, shape the way you understand stereotypes and how you interact with others. Awareness and understanding make the difference.

Follow some of these tips as you guide your buyers through this process:

  1. Review the Code of Ethics
  2. Ensure that you have a firm understanding of fair housing laws
  3. Offer listings based solely on objective criteria:
    1. Focus on physical characteristics and price range
  4. Offer third party resources that provide objective, reliable data:
    1. School District Websites
      1. Can share information about special needs programs, sports, science, music, afterschool care, parent involvement, etc.
      2. Talk to your buyer about what the school offers – not whether it is “good’ or “bad”
    2. Town Websites
    3. Town Public Safety Websites
    4. NAR’s RPR® (Realtors Property Resource®)
  5. Send buyer clients on a drive-around tour of different areas, help set up meetings with school districts
  6. Create templates and flyers that allow you to share the same information with all of your clients
  7. Let the buyer use objective data to make decisions themselves about whether a neighborhood or school district meets their criteria
  8. Do not give opinion-based information
  9. Pay attention to your unconscious biases:
    1. Think: this is what my client asked for v. this is what I think would be good for them.

Remember, you can be the community expert by providing equal service to all, providing objective information and sources that can be easily shared, and allowing your buyer to be the decision maker.