Fair Housing is In Your Hands

Sandra Butler refused to let it slide when a seller she represented last year made what felt like a discriminatory comment. The seller thought the buyers, who had foreign-sounding names, were trying to negotiate for too many repairs. “I know how these people are, and they always want something for nothing,” Butler recalls the seller saying.

Butler is African-American. So was her client. And she didn’t want the seller to “think this conversation could be had because we look alike,” she says. Instead of flatly admonishing her client, Butler turned the conversation to fair housing law. “I said, ‘I don’t know the buyers or what they look like. I just know they are ready, willing, and able to purchase, and it’s our duty under the law to make your property available to them,’ ” says Butler, a sales associate with Sibcy Cline, REALTORS®, in Cincinnati. The deal ultimately fell apart over negotiation terms, but Butler was satisfied that she’d made her client more aware of a seller’s responsibility to abide by the federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits inequitable treatment in the sale, rental, and financing of homes based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, and the presence of children.

Each April, REALTORS® celebrate Fair Housing Month to commemorate the law, which was passed in 1968 and amended in 1988. Yet nearly 50 years after its passage, racial and religious tensions continue to dominate national conversations and stoke heated rhetoric in presidential politics. Is that tension having an effect on real estate sales? Apparently not. Housing discrimination is the exception today, according to a survey REALTOR® Magazine conducted with NAR members in February. Of the 2,300 respondents, more than 80 percent said they had not encountered housing discrimination in their market.

That’s great news. And yet, fair housing challenges remain. Violations—and government efforts to enforce the law—continue. Nearly 10 percent of respondents to the survey said they had encountered discrimination in their markets, 18 percent of those saying it happened within the past month or “earlier this year.”

Fair housing organizations receive about 25,000 to 30,000 complaints each year, according to the National Fair Housing Alliance, a coalition of privately run fair housing groups. Yet, testing suggests there are many more instances of discrimination—the NFHA estimates about 3.7 million annually. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has conducted thousands of tests in recent years, employing housing organizations to send testers out to view for-sale and rental properties as a means of determining whether landlords, lenders, agents, and others in the real estate community treat protected classes differently.

Cliff Long, CEO of the Birmingham Association of REALTORS® in Alabama, says discrimination in the rental process is the biggest issue in his market. When he was relocating to Birmingham three years ago, he experienced it firsthand. Long, who is African-American, says several landlords wanted him to produce financial records before they would show him rental units—a practice that fair housing groups say is often aimed at minorities only. Having just taken the top job at the association, Long decided not to file a complaint.

Nearly all respondents said if they encountered potential discriminatory language or actions, they’d likely address it the way Butler did—by engaging in some straight talk about the law with their client. Less than 3 percent of respondents to the survey said they’d file a complaint, and less than 1 percent said they’ve ever filed a fair housing complaint.

Staying Within the Law

Some behaviors might not strike consumers or real estate professionals as clear-cut violations of the federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits housing discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, and familial status. But HUD’s discrimination studies have found these common—yet often overlooked—infractions that you should be attuned to. Here are ways to avoid overstepping the law:

  • If you ask clients to obtain a prequalification letter from a lender before showing them homes, apply that standard to everyone. Even if clients promise they have the ability to purchase, don’t give them a pass, or a case could be made that you offer differing levels of service. Whatever processes you use for one client, use for all.
  • Don’t write listing copy that makes a judgment about the type of buyer who would be most interested in the home. For example, saying a home is “perfect for joggers” could be seen as excluding people with certain disabilities. Describe the property as being located “next to a jogging trail” rather than the person it would appeal to.

Let the clients bring up whether they want to live near certain amenities, such as houses of worship, cultural institutions, or playgrounds. Making the suggestion yourself could be considered “steering” clients toward certain neighborhoods—a definite violation

Putting Your Training to Work

As a member of the National Association of REALTORS®, you’ve made a commitment to equal treatment—not just because it’s the law but as part of the REALTORS® Code of Ethics. NAR requires that members stay up to date on the Code, completing training at least every four years. In addition, states and localities often have their own fair housing laws, so state and local associations administer specific fair housing training for their members. Typically, licensees are required to take a two- or three-hour course every two to four years.

So there’s little doubt that when clients ask questions about quality of schools, local demographics, and neighborhood safety, you know to refer them to reliable information sources for answers rather than give your opinion. Resist the temptation to skirt the subject, says Mabel Guzman, CIPS, a sales associate at @properties in Chicago. You’re not teaching them anything by being coy. Be frank about why you can’t answer certain questions. Seize the opportunity to explain fair housing laws and why it would be illegal to offer your opinion.

Curiously, more than 30 percent of respondents to REALTOR® Magazine’s survey said they don’t talk about fair housing issues with buyers and sellers. Whether that’s because they don’t encounter discriminatory behavior or because they’re too uncomfortable to challenge that behavior is not clear. It can be tempting to overlook questions or statements from clients in order to avoid an awkward exchange that could affect your business relationship. Addressing such issues in a nonconfrontational way, with fair housing law as the framework, can help.

The Challenges Ahead

When you’re working with first-time buyers, particularly from new immigrant populations, you may need to actively educate your clients about fair housing law. Immigrants are an increasing target for discrimination in real estate, contends Lisa Rice, NFHA executive vice president, and many are unfamiliar with their rights under the law. “If no one is mean or disrespectful,” she says, “it’s not the first thing on your mind that maybe that house wasn’t made available to you because you were being discriminated against. Trained real estate practitioners can recognize discrimination and be part of how we bring awareness to the public.” The Alliance expects to see a rise in national origin–related cases in the coming years, Rice says.

As a Muslim woman living in the south, Firdaus Rahman, CRS, GRI, a sales associate at RE/MAX Partners in Mobile, Ala., admits she’s worried that Islamophobia—a hot-button issue in the 2016 presidential race—is becoming more acceptable and leads to unfair treatment. Rahman has been teaching fair housing and diversity courses through the Alabama Real Estate Commission since 2002, but the curriculum doesn’t go deeply into religion. She says the training needs an overhaul to reflect new issues surfacing in the field.

“You have to understand where people from different cultures are coming from,” Rahman says, adding that sensitivity to certain holidays and holy days is an important part of working with clients.

Also, because some cultures don’t participate in banking and savings in ways that are customary in the U.S., landlords, lenders, and real estate practitioners may have to educate their clients about U.S. customs or even adjust their expectations. “When immigration reform begins, we’re going to need a lot of education,” Long says. “You can bet fair housing is going to be front and center, and we’re going to be in a bad position if we’re not ready to tackle this issue. I’d like to play a proactive role rather than a reactive role.”

Brokers can take the lead on that front and establish relationships with local fair housing organizations to get a better look at the issues facing local markets. After the NFHA filed discrimination lawsuits against several brokerages nationwide in 2007, including one in the Detroit area, Michigan REALTORS® partnered with fair housing groups around the state to bring regulators and practitioners together. The association developed a program to allow brokers to be voluntarily tested by fair housing groups for informational purposes, hoping it would foster more collaboration on training in the industry. “Part of the testing was about demystifying our relationship with fair housing centers,” says Brian Westrin, the association’s director of legal affairs. “There was a lot of unknown there about whether brokers could reach out and bring fair housing centers into their office for education.”

Addressing the Affordability Barrier

One of the underlying goals of fair housing law has been ending segregated housing patterns in the United States, but census data show the law has fallen short. So last year, President Barack Obama announced a new rule requiring local governments that receive federal housing funds to report how they use those funds to foster more integrated communities.

Lack of affordable housing can perpetuate segregation when it prevents protected classes from moving up the housing ladder. It’s a problem facing cities across the country, but none more acutely than San Francisco, where the median price was $940,000 in the fourth quarter of 2015. That’s why REALTORS® there have banded together to come up with solutions to the growing affordability crisis.

The real estate industry in San Francisco relies heavily on all-cash buyers—many from Asia—which pushes up prices and leaves other groups at a disadvantage, says Eugene Pak, president of the San Francisco Association of REALTORS® and sales manager at Climb Real Estate. One of SFAR’s primary goals this year is to work with local officials on a program to fast-track the permitting process for residential developments that will deliver a certain percentage of affordable units. It currently takes eight to 15 years to build a large development because of the intense permitting process, Pak says. “We don’t only care about the needs of our millionaire clients,” he adds. “We believe in housing for all.”

The country has come a long way over the past half-century when racial steering and disparate lending practices were common. And REALTORS® are on the forefront. But in an increasingly diverse country—where taking the first step toward buying or even renting can be a daunting task—you have an opportunity to do more: Teach your neighbors about what fairness in the real estate transaction looks like and empower those who’ve faced prejudice to challenge unequal treatment. Are you making the most of your platform?

VR Young Professionals Network Event Kickoff

Vermont Realtors® will host a kickoff event for its new Young Professionals Network (YPN) on Tuesday, April 26 at the Vermont Realtors® office in Montpelier!

We are excited to introduce the VR YPN to help our young Realtors® connect with each other and to tap into the valuable resources of peer networking! Our kickoff event is designed to introduce the mission of YPN, connect our young Realtors® and to brainstorm ideas for building a strong YPN program aimed at helping our members succeed!

The Northwestern Vermont Board of Realtors® YPN will join us to share their ideas and to talk about the value of YPN to their local board members. We’ll be joining the NVBR YPN group in July for a fun social event! VR has also planned future YPN events for the summer and fall!

The VR YPN Kickoff event will start at 12 Noon with lunch and will adjourn at 2:30pm. We hope you’ll join us for this exciting event!

Note: The VR YPN is open to all ages!

This event is free, but RSVP is required. Please contact Isaac Chavez at isaac@vermontrealtors.com to let us know that you will be attending.

Survey: 75% Believe that Now is a Good Time to Buy

2016-03-home-survey-infographic-fullThe National Association of Realtors® has released its quarterly Home Survey. Here are the highlights:

  • Seventy-five percent of people believe now is a good time to buy a home. Forty-four percent believe that strongly.
  • Not surprisingly, with rapid home price acceleration, those who are currently renting or living with someone else, those who are under 34 years of age, and those who live in urban areas are less confident now is a good time to buy, however even among those groups the majority do feel now is a good time to buy a home.
  • Four in five people who currently own a home, those over 65 years of age, those with incomes over $50,000 and those in the Midwest believe now is a good time to buy a home.
  • More than one-third of buyers of all ages would prefer to live in a close-in suburb. For those who are 55 to 64, rural settings are also attractive.
  • Younger respondents and those who are renters and live with someone else are more likely than others to consider buying in an urban area.

DOWNLOAD THE REPORT
Click here to view infographic
Read the news release about this report

NAR Ad Campaign Urges Consumer to ‘Get Realtor®’

consumer-advertising-campaign-digital-web-banner-fun-and-games-2016-02-01-300x165Buying a home isn’t as easy as clicking a few buttons and magically getting the home of your dreams, as the current real estate advertising landscape leads many to believe. The reality is that real estate transactions can be stressful and there are often challenges and obstacles along the way.

To communicate Realtor® value in helping consumers succeed in all things real estate, the National Association of Realtors® has launched a new advertising campaign, “Get Realtor®.” The campaign targets hyper-connected and emerging generations of home buyers, sellers, owners and investors.

Technology has advanced modern life in many ways and allows people to do more online than ever before. With just a few keystrokes or taps on a screen, consumers can shop for a mortgage, learn about the buying or selling process and browse through photos of homes for sale. But access to information doesn’t automatically translate to success when buying or selling a home. In other words, when it comes to the biggest purchase many people will likely ever make, consumers need to “Get Realtor®.”

“When it comes to real estate and the Internet, today’s consumers don’t always know what they don’t know,” said NAR President Tom Salomone, broker-owner of Real Estate II Inc. in Coral Springs, Florida. “The Get Realtor® campaign demonstrates how Realtors® – members of the National Association of Realtors® – can help buyers, sellers and investors succeed. We want today’s consumers to understand that having a Realtor® at their side is their competitive advantage in the real estate transaction.”

NAR’s consumer advertising campaign began 17 years ago, and launches in 2016 with a whole new look and feel to help modernize consumer perceptions of Realtors®, particularly among Millennials, who are currently the largest homebuying segment.

“Contemporizing an established brand will take time. To reach new generations, we’ve created advertising that is dramatically different and bold enough to break through the clutter and get noticed, and help drive consideration of Realtors®,” said Salomone. “Also, our own research found that consumers have anxiety about reaching out from behind their tech screens for professional assistance, including from a Realtor®. With this campaign, consumers will be exposed to a redefined brand in more contemporary channels that demonstrates why consumers need to Get Realtor®.”

The Get Realtor® campaign currently includes social, digital, print, and radio creative; NAR’s media mix is shifting significantly from previous campaigns to the social and digital side for greater engagement with tech-savvy consumers who are increasingly going mobile, getting their content on demand, and sharing information across their social networks.

The Get Realtor® campaign is the first created in partnership with advertising agency Arnold Worldwide, which was named NAR’s agency of record in 2015 for its strategy, creativity and extensive history of helping clients reinvent their brands, including Volkswagen, Ocean Spray and Progressive.

For additional information about the strategy and research behind the new campaign, and to view current campaign materials, click below.

Digital Ads
Print Ads
Social Media
Usage Guidelines
Media Partnerships
Campaign Strategy

A Great Gift for Your Clients

VRETVermont Real Estate Publishing (VRET), which prints the Vermont Property Owners Report (VPOR), is offering Realtors® in Vermont the opportunity to give subscriptions at a reduced subscription rate offering your clients a gift that will help them remember you all year.

A recent article published by Inman News listed a subscription as one of the top closing gift ideas among other, costlier, options. And what better gift than a publication that will help your clients better understand Vermont’s taxes, laws, regulations, and the news that is important to property owners.

For only $40 ($37 for PDF), you can present your clients with a subscription to VPOR as a closing gift, for the holidays, or any occasion. That’s a savings of about 25 percent off the normal subscription price.
Gift cards are being distributed to Realtor® offices throughout the state through VR staff and can be picked up at the VR office in Montpelier. Until cards are delivered, if you’d like to take advantage of this offer and give a gift subscription, you can download the card here, or call VRET at (802) 552-1157.

VR Now Offering Online Mandatory Course

Mandatory Course OnlineVermont Realtors® has partnered with Calypso Continuing Education to offer The Mandatory Course online! This course has been approved by the Vermont Real Estate Commission for 4 CE. The online Mandatory Course is a cost effective and convenient way to meet your regulatory responsibilities and maintain your familiarity with the ‘rules of the road’ when selling real estate in Vermont.   The course is asynchronous. Learn at your own pace, log in and out at your leisure.  The online system stores your information and allows you to pick up right where you left off to begin work again.

—The general theme of this course is to review local, state, and federal changes to laws, regulations, and rules that impact licensees’ practice of residential and commercial real estate.

—Sections one and two are inclusive of the recent changes. The goal of section three is bringing in the Vermont Real Estate Commission’s disciplinary cases to make licensees aware of the nature of complaints with a focus on adoption of best practices to void common pitfalls.

Cost: $59

Get started here.

Mandatory Course Requirements for License Renewal

c1c981f0-197a-4eb5-b63d-a0e497636205Real Estate License Renewal

Now is the time to make sure you meet the continuing education requirements needed to renew your real estate license for the 2014-2016 renewal cycle. Here is some important information you need to know:

Broker License Renewal
Brokers are required to complete 24 credit hours. Four credit hours must include the current Mandatory Course. DEADLINE: March 31, 2016.

Salesperson License Renewal
Real estate salespersons are required to complete 16 credit hours for license renewal. Four credit hours must include the current Mandatory Course. DEADLINE: May 31, 2016.

Upcoming Mandatory Courses

January 27 – Williston
February 3 – Montpelier

Vermont Housing Market Annual Report

VR Market Report CoverIn 2015, residential real estate experienced its best year since the Great Recession ended in 2009. Although inventory could still use a jolt, demand was healthy throughout the year and there was enough supply to keep the engine strong.

Vermont Realtors® has released its 2015 Annual Market Report. Download the report here.

3 Ways to Use Google Surveys

Find out what motivates home sellers or entices home buyers by surveying customers in your market.

Want to know what your customers are thinking? Ask them.

Google’s new survey tool offers brokers the opportunity to ask timely questions, gauge client satisfaction, track brand perception, measure marketing campaigns, and more.

Here’s how it works: Google has a network of online publishers, such as news or entertainment websites, that enable survey questions to be embedded into articles. Readers are asked to answer the questions in exchange for access to the content. Hone your survey audience by specifying geographic locations (based on IP address) or other demographics or by using a survey-screening question. The cost to you is 10 cents per completed survey. In return, Google compiles the data in the form of graphs with clickable demographic segments. You can also export the data for use in your own business-tracking programs.

It may sound like a fairly random sample, but Google can place your surveys on sites visited by people who have also visited your real estate website via cookie list retargeting. Also, you can embed a survey directly on your own real estate website.

Google’s Opinion Rewards mobile app is another option, which is available through the Google Play Store. Survey takers provide some basic demographics, and then they take surveys in exchange for Play Store credits.

Here are three examples of the types of survey that might help you with your business goals:

1. Market trends: Learn what buyers in your market want in a home or what motivates sellers to move. For example, ask potential sellers how soon they plan to move or why they want to sell. Do they need more space or less? Where is their desired location? Do they want a newer home with energy efficiencies?

2. Timely questions: Trying to figure out where to spend your online advertising dollars this quarter? Ask buyers where they shop for homes online, and then segment the data by age, gender, location, and other groupings to get a better picture of your target market.

3. Hear from your customers: Rather than surveying potential clients with embedded surveys on other sites or through Google’s Opinion Rewards, you can create a survey to gather feedback from your current customers. Embed a client satisfaction survey directly on your website and e-mail the survey link to clients after closing. Collect feedback on how your agents’ customer service skills fared. Find out why the customer chose to work with your agent or how they learned about your brokerage in the first place. Find out their level of satisfaction with the transaction. Ensure that your agents were responsive to clients’ needs. Default questions are available for free, and customized questions are 1 cent per survey completed by customers.

If you have another type of survey in mind, Google also offers fully customized survey options you can use to collect data from your clients, sphere, or market.