The Fair Housing Act
Let’s start this conversation by being sincere about our history. The National Association of REALTORS opposed the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Discriminating against people based on skin color after the passage of the 1866 Civil Rights Act and continuing after the 1968 Fair Housing Act caused millions of Americans to miss the prosperity our parents and grandparents gained during the fast-rising home equity run-up in the post World War II housing boom. The consequences of falling further behind in earned equity continue to be suffered several generations later. We owe great amends for the damage we caused and the inequality we perpetuated. We can do better.
Steer Me Wrong
In 1934, Article 34 of NAREB’s Code of Ethics stated: A realtor should never be instrumental in introducing into a neighborhood a character of property or occupancy, members of any race or nationality, or any individual whose presence would be detrimental to property values in that neighborhood.
1962 Version of NAR Code of Ethics Article 5 shows how far we progressed:
The Realtor should not be instrumental in introducing into a neighborhood a character of property or use which will clearly be detrimental to property values in that neighborhood.
This equally illegal whitewash changes nothing.
Spring 2020. Could your clients write a letter to the seller to tell them more about themselves? My client wants to know so they can select the buyer who would be a good fit for the neighborhood.
Can we not see racism even on our porch? Racism lives another day when Realtors participate in gathering evidence to prove a person is or isn’t a good fit for a neighborhood. You can check the Code, the Rules, and the law; you will find nothing that comes close to fitting people into a neighborhood as a responsibility of a real estate licensee. There are plenty of rules and regulations that make judging a person by their race, creed, the color of their skin, unfit, or fit to live in a neighborhood an illegal act of discrimination.
Letters and Photographs
Choosing to sharpen our real estate transaction law and negotiating skills is a sure route to smarter more effective ideas to give our clients an edge in competition. Some ingenious ways we think we’re giving a client an edge are no more than appealing to a person’s implicit bias. A few years ago Realtors began touting the Love Letter From Buyer to Seller as a surefire way to tilt the Seller’s emotions in a Buyer’s favor. The idea, I’m told, is that the letter creates a personal connection between the Buyer and Seller that you can’t achieve with an Offer to Purchase where price and terms are known and little else about the interested persons. Some highly productive Realtors attribute their success in part to the letters they have their clients write and for extra assurance, it’s sometimes recommended the Buyer include a photograph of the happy family. A picture is worth a thousand words and some of the words add up to foul language.
There are Realtors who promote writing the perfect love letter to the seller with a narrative implying or intending to be interpreted as I am the better buyer because I like what you like, or I have a family like your family, or I look like you, or I look like someone who fits in your neighborhood. If going down this road was Fair-Housing safe, there would be a page in the Offer to write these letters and insert photos. Attempting to tilt the tables in one person’s favor based on how they look, or how lovely their children are looks a lot like encouraging discrimination against protected classes. And, yes the practice is prevalent.
This is from an actual blog: …They might be thrilled to know that you are, for example, recently married,… The same author wrote: … Sellers might be more motivated to sell the house to a family who is weeks away from the birth of a third child … (More motivated than to sell to someone who isn’t married, is married without children, or has children who look different than the other children in the neighborhood perhaps?)
The Terms of the Offer Show The Buyer’s level of commitment
Everything a homeowner needs to know to select the buyer they want to own their home can be found in the Offer to purchase if the person who drafted the Offer has the necessary skills to express what matters most. We believe a commitment to close matters most once price expectations are met. Who the buyer looks like or whether they are married with children are irrelevant. Looks only become of interest when all offers look pretty much the same or when people who know better find ways to justify going down the low road.
Love Letters and Photographs are Non-Essential
At Essential Real Estate, LLC we teach our buyer clients to construct Offers that show and tell the Seller that they are the readiest, willing, able Buyer who can show their commitment to getting to closing with little or no risk for the Seller. Essential Real Estate does not participate in perpetuating discrimination. We do not suggest that our buyer clients write letters to the seller. We caution our Seller clients to make their decision on verified facts related to price and terms and the buyer’s commitment to close. As Realtors and licensees, we will not forward photographs with Offers. We don’t want to see photographs of people with Offers that come in on our listings. We believe the best thing we can do for our buyer clients and seller clients is to practice real estate within the law and avoid discriminatory practices that hide in the shadows of supposedly innocent intentions.
We welcome the opportunity to talk about this topic with you. Our practice does not stretch limits. We do business within the rules and laws because it’s the right thing. Our clients and those who benefit from our service appreciate the protection and security we provide for them. We want you to be one of those clients.
NOTE: The National Association of Realtors does not shy away from accountability for their history of being on the wrong side of fair housing until not so long ago. This is a link to the Archives of NAR Code of Ethics over the years.