Imagine that your favorite client has just referred their two closest friends to you. When you’re showing them property, you spot an open house. The house, owned by a tech CEO, turns out to be perfect for your clients. Unfortunately, there’s another couple looking at the house. You overhear them telling the listing agent they will be writing an–all cash offer because their company just went public.
Now picture what each of these individuals looks like – your favorite client who made the referral, each of the four buyers, the tech CEO and the listing agent. Do you have a clear picture in your mind of each individual?
Now, answer these questions:
- Was the tech CEO a woman?
- Were the buyers whose company had just gone public Baby Boomers?
- Were the two buyers in each case a married man and woman?
- Were any of the buyers African American or Hispanic?
- How similar were the listing agent and your favorite client to you in terms of age, appearance, gender, values, or other factors?
Now repeat this exercise. Chances are you will imagine a more diverse group of people the second time around.
This exercise demonstrates how unconscious bias works. We’re more comfortable around people who are like us. Unfortunately, this can find its way into our work lives in insidious ways, as a three-year investigation by Newsday, which revealed widespread fair housing violations by Long Island real estate agents, shows.
Consequently, one of the first steps of raising the bar in fair housing is to make people aware of where unconscious bias creeps into their real estate practices.
Are You Falling Short?
To avoid Fair Housing violations that may be coming from unconscious bias on your part, you must ask yourself some important questions.
Do you always follow the same process with every buyer? Get in the habit of using a written Buyer Interview where you ask every buyer the same questions. As part of that interview, always ask every buyer to be pre-approved or pre-qualified as one of those questions. If you refer them to a mortgage lender, always give them at least three from which to choose.
During your buyer interview, do you ask about family status? Asking this question violates fair housing laws. Instead, ask “How many people are in your household?” Avoid references to age, family status, country of origin and ethnicity.
How do you greet a new client who comes into your office – do you offer them coffee or some other type of refreshment? A number of years ago, a large, independent company had an agent who offered a cup of coffee to some white testers. A different agent at the same company, did not offer coffee to their black testers. The result –a $200,000 lawsuit against the brokerage for violating the fair housing laws.
Here’s what fascinating: The agent who offered the white testers coffee was a heavy coffee drinker. The bottom line – not only do agents need to be consistent, so do their brokerages. If one person is offered coffee or water, then every person must be offered coffee or water.
Have you ever used any of these words in your advertising or marketing: “Great family area,” “exclusive neighborhood” or “private community”? These catchwords can convey preferences for one group over another group or send signals about a community’s makeup. To avoid this issue, instead of using a phrase such as “great for joggers,” describe the features of the property: “Near a 6-mile, paved exercise trail through the woods.”
According to the Fair Housing Institute, phrases such as “master bedroom,” “desirable neighborhood,” “walk-in closets,” “no pets” or “walk to bus stop” are acceptable. “Walk to temple” is not acceptable. Neither is “no children,” unless the community is a 55-plus, age–restricted community.
Do you follow up with every on-line, sign call, or open house lead? This is an area where unconscious bias can be a difficult challenge. Are your follow-up techniques more aggressive with some types of client leads? If you’re not following up with every lead, how are you making that decision? An excellent way to avoid having fair Housing issues with your lead follow-up is to use an automated lead follow-up process like Spacio that contacts all leads that you receive.
Clients Can Cause Issues, Too
If a seller has multiple offers on their property and they want to know the age, ethnicity, sexual orientation or any other factor that violates fair housing law, advise them that as per the law, you cannot answer the question.
If any client asks you to engage in any behavior that violates the law after you have explained the fair housing requirements to them, it’s time to terminate your relationship.
The key point to keep in mind is that each client must receive the same level of service – the very best that you and your company can provide.
Bernice Ross is a nationally syndicated columnist, author, trainer and speaker on real estate topics. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.