Most homeowners want to do the right thing, but they don’t always understand how they can unintentionally discriminate against a qualified buyer. According to broker Teresa Boardman, transparency and communication are the keys to ensuring optimal outcomes for everyone.

This April, one of Inman’s most popular recurring theme months returns: Back to Basics. All month, real estate professionals from across the country share what’s working for them, how they’ve evolved their systems and tools, and where they’re investing personally and professionally to drive growth in 2022. It’s always smart to go Back to Basics with Inman.

Back to Basics Month is the perfect time to think about fair housing because it is also Fair Housing Month, and there isn’t anything more basic to human survival than housing.

Fair housing starts with education. Real estate agents and companies are uniquely positioned to educate homesellers about fair housing.

It starts with a strong written fair housing policy that states that we will not participate in any kind of housing discrimination. We will not discriminate, and we won’t tolerate it from our clients. I have integrated such a policy into a disclosure that all our clients are given when they sign a contract with us.

Most homeowners want to do the right thing, but they don’t always understand how they can unintentionally discriminate against someone who is qualified to buy their house and who wants to buy it.

When a homeowner lists with us, they get information about fair housing. We go over what a good offer should look like and ask them questions about what is important to them in the sale of their home.

We explain that some buyers will submit what we call “love letters” with their offers. We also explain how accepting an offer from a buyer based upon some of the personal information we find in those letters could be housing discrimination. Most of our sellers opt to have a statement put in the MLS that they welcome offers but do not want letters.

Fair housing complaints are rare, and buyers rarely find out that their offer was rejected due to discriminatory behavior on the part of the real estate agents or the homeowners. We don’t promote fair housing because we are afraid of being punished; we do it because it is the right thing to do.

Often offers that include down payment assistance are rejected on the recommendation of the listing agent. Yet those same agents never ask for a bank statement proving that a buyer has the funds for a down payment.

It doesn’t make sense to reject offers from buyers when the down payment assistance funds are approved and waiting to be spent. Part of the reason the funds exist in the first place is to help close the homeownership gap.

Add to that the often the money is coming from the government, and rejecting an offer because someone is using government assistance could be a fair housing violation.

I like to explain down payment assistance programs to homesellers and talk about how a good strong offer with down payment assistance might look. Some homeowners are interested in learning more, so I send them information about the various loan programs available in the community.

So, we have never had a home sale fall apart due to financing because the buyer was using down payment assistance or any government program.

It is also a good idea to go through a list of possible contingencies. An inspection contingency isn’t always a bad thing. There are pros and cons to accepting an inspection-contingent offer.

We can be certain there will be multiple offers on most listings. It’s important to prepare homesellers, and it’s important to have a system in place for handling multiple offers.

We encourage sellers to decide ahead of time how they want to handle the offers. Should we tell other interested parties that an offer has come in? Do we set a deadline after multiple offers are received? If the offers are for full price or above, do the sellers want or need more offers?

Getting 22 offers can make an agent look like a superstar, but the sellers can only accept one offer. Is it really in their best interest to have to reject the other 21 or would it be better if they had a few great offers to choose from? Sometimes there are a few offers that are almost identical.

Each offer must be acknowledged. One way to do that is to have the seller initial the front page of the offers that have been rejected. So far, I haven’t had a seller say no to this. After the offer is initialed, it is sent back to the buyer’s agent.

The reason given for rejecting any offer is that the sellers chose another offer. Thanking an agent for his hard work or wishing them luck in the rejection email or phone call seems unnecessary and condescending

If an offer is made by an agent we don’t like, and another is made by an agent we love to work with, we still treat both offers the same. It is up to the client to decide which offer they want to take. It is our job to work with the agent representing the offer our clients choose.

When it comes to choosing an offer, it’s the seller’s choice. Sellers usually ask for an opinion, or they ask specific questions.

Realtors have a duty to treat all parties fairly and honestly. In a market where there are not enough houses to go around and where buyer offers are often rejected, we need to keep it fair and legal and as transparent as possible.

Teresa Boardman is a Realtor and broker/owner of Boardman Realty in St. Paul, Minnesota. She is also the founder of StPaulRealEstateBlog.com.

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