DEAR BERNICE: My husband and I are Orthodox Jews and live just three blocks from our local temple. We are moving back to New York to care for my elderly parents. When I went over the selling points of our house with our broker, I was shocked. She told me that it was illegal to use the phrase "walk to temple." Our home has a very wonderful kosher kitchen. She said we couldn’t reference that either.
This seems very unreasonable because these are two of the most important reasons why we bought this home. Is there really such a law? –Susan R.
DEAR SUSAN: The "fair housing" laws in this country are very strict. In fact, most states require new and experienced agents to take a fair housing course when they renew or first obtain their license. The laws are designed to prevent discrimination against various groups of people. Here are just a few examples of how strict these laws are:
1. Asking "How many people are in your family?" discriminates against those who are single or who may not be part of a traditional family unit. The correct question is "How many people are in your household?" This avoids sticky questions about marital status, children, and a host of other issues.
2. In your case, the phrase "walk to temple" discriminates against those who don’t belong to your faith.
3. "Family neighborhood" discriminates against those who are single, divorced or widowed.
4. "I want to live in a neighborhood where they speak my native language." If the Realtor shows you properties in a specific neighborhood where most of the residents are from the same country, the agent can be accused of "steering" the buyer away from other neighborhoods. This is a serious issue that can cost the agent his or her license.
5. Many states have "testers" who monitor the real estate community for fair housing compliance. And lawsuits can result when these testers find discrepancies in the treatment of clients and prospective clients. …CONTINUED
The real issue is: What can you do that is legal and that highlights the advantages of your home to potential buyers?
One of the first steps to take is to ask your listing agent to take at least 20 pictures of your home. Be sure that these pictures highlight your kitchen with dual refrigerators, dishwaters and sinks. Your kitchen is not only ideal for a family who keeps kosher, but it’s also great for someone who does a lot of entertaining, who likes to cook, or who may have a large family.
Rather than limiting the number of people who may choose to look at your home, this approach will probably generate more buyers. The more exposure you receive, the more likely you are to get your asking price.
In terms of letting people know about the amenities in your community, another great way to do this is either with still photos or with a video. Ask your agent to photograph the various businesses, schools, places of worship, and recreational facilities within a one-mile radius of your property.
These additional photos can be posted on the agent’s Web site, a company Web site, or other real estate sites. As a rule of thumb, the more pictures that you supply, the better your traffic will be online. When you list most or all of the local services, there is no issue.
Many agents make videos that walk potential buyers through your home. This is called a "virtual tour." If your agent has not made arrangements to video your property, ask him or her to do so.
Videos are especially important today. Consumers love them and so do the search engines such as Google and Bing. As a rule of thumb, properties with numerous photos and at least one or two videos will come up significantly higher in search-engine ranking. If your agent happens to do an actual video, the agent could use TubeMogul.com, a site that will send your video to 15 different video sites including Mimeo, YouTube, Yahoo! Video and Google video.
Finally, don’t forget about the direct marketing that you can do personally. There is nothing that prohibits you from telling the people at your temple that your home is on the market. Include some nice color brochures of the property, especially those that may have a map showing how near your property is as well as showing your beautiful kitchen.
The cost of your agent violating the fair housing requirements is high. With a little ingenuity and marketing, however, you can provide potential buyers with the information they would need to know to realize that your home is perfect for them and their lifestyle.
Bernice Ross, CEO of RealEstateCoach.com, is a national speaker, trainer and author of "Real Estate Dough: Your Recipe for Real Estate Success" and other books. You can reach her at Bernice@RealEstateCoach.com and find her on Twitter: @bross.
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