Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Fair Housing Laws: be careful how you describe and market a home for sale...

I have been asked a lot lately by my seller clients - how will you target specific market segments when you market my property? Ok, maybe they don't ask exactly like that, and I'm inserting my Realtor-ease into this post...I might hear from a seller, for example, "I think my property would be great for a family...Or this would be great for a single person...Or this would be great for a member of the church down the street...etc. How will you market my property to {fill in the blank}?"

The answer is - very carefully and deliberately as so not to violate federal law! Questions like this can set off alarm bells for me when I hear them, even from the most well-intentioned people. Certainly I can and do market my listings in ways that will reach different audiences, but using direct marketing language where these "groups" are concerned is a big no-no! Directing advertising toward a specific group, in theory, automatically excludes other groups, and therein lies the violation of Fair Housing laws. It surprises me how often I see direct marketing language used by other agents, or folks trying to FSBO. An example of this language might be "great family home" or "waking distance to the park" or "perfect for parishoners of the Catholic church," etc. Per US Department of Justice website, Civil Rights Division, Fair Housing Act:

Refer to Sec. 804. [42 U.S.C. 3604] "As made applicable by section 803 of this title and except as exempted by sections 803(b) and 807 of this title, it shall be unlawful--

(c) To make, print, or publish, or cause to be made, printed, or published any notice, statement, or advertisement, with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin, or an intention to make any such preference, limitation, or discrimination."

Saying something like "great family home" discriminates against single or unmarried people. "Walking distance to the park" discriminates against folks who are are physically handicapped and can't walk. "Perfect for parishoners of the Catholic church" discriminates against folks of other religions. Alternative language might be "great 4 bedroom home" or "close proximity to the park" or "you will love all of the nearby local amenities such as shopping, places of worship, schools, etc."

So be aware of these laws and careful when choosing the words to market a home. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has some Fair Housing Q&A's on their website, as does the US Department of Justice.

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