There are not many people who care to read about fair housing. Let’s face it, most of us are salespeople, and sometimes rules seem like unfair barriers.
April 2018 will mark the 50th anniversary of the federal Fair Housing Act of 1968. Part of what the laws were supposed to do is deter racial segregation. It didn’t work so well where I live and in many parts of the country.
There are neighborhoods where residents are mostly white and neighborhoods that are a lot more diverse. The best schools and the most expensive homes are in the mostly white neighborhoods.
What is a ‘perfect family home’?
I am required to have fair housing training every two-year licensing period if I want to keep my real estate license.
In 1968, the Fair Housing Act banned the use of discriminatory phrases like “whites only” or “Jewish community”
I recently found an advertisement for a new housing development in the suburbs. The homes are large and expensive. One of the advertisements showed a white man, woman and two children playing a game.
The banner across the picture said, “The perfect family home.” The marketing included page after page of pictures of white adults with white children.
There isn’t anything wrong with pictures of white families; such pictures are common in advertising. I often wonder if the ads make everyone feel welcome.
They target a certain group of people based on family status. They also have a pretty narrow definition of family. What is a family? Is it always a man and a woman and one or more children? Are two men with a child a family? Is a grandmother, her single daughter and grandson a family?
You don’t have to like the law
Real estate professionals sometimes become angry when they find out that they cannot advertise a home for sale as the “perfect family home” or even as a “family home.”
I think it is alright to be angry about it. There are several laws that I don’t like. I hate the fact that there is a bridge by my house with a design speed of 70, but the speed limit on the bridge is 35. It doesn’t seem fair. Safety is being taken to a ridiculous level as the bridge has two lanes and is almost perfectly straight.
No one has to understand a law or agree with it, we just have to be in compliance. I am not the fair housing police, but I can site several instances where real estate agents were told they had to change an advertisement because it contained the phrase “family home.”
Some will even say that fair housing rules are not fair. I can see a whole other side to the issue. In the ’50s and ’60s, new construction was marketed to white people and people of color were not allowed to buy in some communities.
Our past is one of housing discrimination and segregation. There is housing discrimination in our present too. Homeownership is also a kind of ticket to the middle class, and for some, the only way to build wealth. It isn’t just about having a roof over our heads.
I’ll always remember a client I had who did not want me to sell his home to “those people.” In the end he did sell to “those people” because they offered him a fair amount of money for his home.
Housing discrimination isn’t just in the past. No, it isn’t our fault; and yes, it is too big of a problem for any one of us to solve, but each of us needs to do something rather than nothing.
Let go of perfect
The best way to market real estate is to market the features and the benefits of owning the property. Such advertising is more inclusive and legal. It’s our job to sell the real estate, and there are all sorts of creative ways to do that.
Maybe the something we can do is make our advertising about the real estate and make it as inclusive as possible.
Instead of a “perfect family home,” the house could be advertised as “The perfect Minnesota home.” It could be advertised as a superb home or a home that anyone could love or even a house that will feel like home.
I once had a marketing expert suggest that I advertise a small condo as being the “perfect bachelor pad.” Instead, I advertised convenience, ease of upkeep and the vibrant neighborhood with places to go and things to do.
Maybe if more glossy brochures for new developments included people of color, the pictures would help white people get used to the idea that someone of color could live next door.