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When your buyers and sellers ask questions that may potentially violate fair housing, here’s how to answer them honestly and ethically

Talking with clients about the buying and selling process can be fraught with obstacles and tripwires, including personality differences, stress-induced disagreements, plus misinformation and misunderstandings based on what friends and family have told them.

Whether you’re a new agent or an experienced veteran agent, you may be tempted, from time to time, to go along to get along and avoid an argument — especially if the client is difficult to deal with or if the transaction is approaching the home stretch.

However, there are conversations where you can’t compromise and where the information you provide must be delivered honestly and in a straightforward manner. Fair housing is one of those subject areas — you owe it to yourself, your clients and anyone on the other side of the transaction to answer these questions to the best of your ability.

Here are a few fair housing-related questions you’ve either been asked or will be asked along with polite yet professional response suggestions. Use them as the basis for your own go-to, automatic responses so that you are always ready with the right answer.

Are the schools in that neighborhood good? Are there nice kids in those schools?

Sample response: School information changes year to year, so it’s best to go straight to the source. You can find plenty of information online or by speaking with an administrator at the school you’re considering.

There are plenty of places where homebuyers can find information about the schools in their chosen marketNicheGreatSchools and other aggregators provide ratings of many schools, along with reviews from parents and students. Local and state boards of education also provide test scores, award information, and other facts about local schools and school systems.

According to Bernice Ross, two options for providing objective data are (NAR’s Real Property Resource) for reports that are free to all Realtors as well as Attom Data’s

Is that neighborhood safe? What is crime like in that neighborhood?

Sample response: There is plenty of information online about crime data and trends in different ZIP codes. As a real estate professional, I know that statistics don’t always tell the whole story and that neighborhoods can vary widely, even within the same ZIP code. I don’t see it as my role to make determinations about public safety.

There’s a reason that most of the real estate portals have ditched crime statistics. They can be accidentally misleading at best, or worse, can be used for purposeful steering and redlining.

In addition, there is a potential liability in making judgments about the safety and security of a home or potential homeowner. You don’t need to take on the responsibility of making those determinations.

Part of what we love about our house is that it’s so near the church. We’d really like a nice Christian family to live here. Can you help us find someone suitable?

Sample response: As a real estate professional, it’s my job to help you find the right buyer for your home. That means finding someone who is financially qualified to see the transaction all the way to the closing table and getting you the best price and terms I can for your home. 

If your client is not satisfied with this response, you should tell them straight out that this type of cherry-picking based on religion and family type is discriminatory and illegal for all real estate professionals.

If the client knows someone in their church who meets their criteria, they are certainly welcome to have that conversation privately. However, you cannot be involved in a conversation around these issues.

Is that a nice family neighborhood? Are there a lot of kids in the neighborhood?

Or alternatively: I’ve raised my kids, and I’m ready for a quiet retirement. I don’t want a neighborhood with a bunch of children running around. Can you help me find a place with no children?

Sample response: Our MLS doesn’t identify neighborhoods based on the number of children, so I don’t have that data to share with you. If you’re looking for a neighborhood with other retirees, I can show you a home in a 55+ active adult community

It’s not your responsibility to find a neighborhood with (or without) children, except for those neighborhoods that are specifically set aside for retirees and that may have specific restrictions on visits from family members under 55.

Still, it’s up to the buyer to determine the age makeup of the neighborhood and to make their own decisions based on their personal observations.

You know, sometimes people are just — different. Can you make sure that none of ‘those’ people buy our house? My neighbors would be offended.

Sample response: I’m not sure exactly what you might be referring to, and I would prefer that you not elaborate. As a real estate professional, it’s my job to help you find the right buyer for your home. That means finding someone who is financially qualified to see the transaction all the way to the closing table and getting you the best price and terms I can for your home. Those are the only criteria I will consider when identifying a buyer for your home.

Coded, nudge-nudge-wink-wink suggestions and hints should be shut down quickly, firmly and not revisited. Don’t “pretend” to go along with this type of instruction because it will be very hard to prove that you didn’t participate in discriminatory behavior later.