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Ensuring Fair Housing in Real Estate Listing Public Remarks

In real estate, fair housing isn’t just a moral imperative—it’s the law. Ensuring equitable access to housing opportunities is a cornerstone of what we do as real estate professionals.  

April 30, 2024

We devote the whole month of April to Fair Housing and take required courses related to it. When it comes to the MLS, it plays out in the public remarks section in real estate listings. While it might seem like just another box to fill out, its potential impact on fair housing cannot be overstated. 

The Significance of the Public Remarks Section 

When potential buyers or renters browse through listings, they’re not just looking for a property. They’re also gauging whether it fits their lifestyle, preferences, and needs.  

The public remarks section serves as a narrative, painting a picture of the property beyond its dimensions and amenities. But this space also carries the responsibility of upholding fair housing principles. 

The Pitfalls of Discriminatory Language 

Historically, real estate listings have been plagued by discriminatory language that excludes certain groups based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, familial status, disability, or other protected characteristics.  

Terms like “family-friendly neighborhood” may subtly signal a preference for families with children, while “walkable area” might suggest an implicit bias against individuals with mobility challenges. 

Fair Housing Do’s and Don’ts for Listing Public Remarks 

A listing’s public remarks content can be considered discriminatory under the Fair Housing Act. This legislation prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental and financing of dwellings based on protected characteristics. Some Do’s and Don’ts to consider include: 

DON’T: Use language that directly or indirectly implies a preference or disfavor for a protected class. 

Example: Public comments should not say, “no children,” “English-speakers only,” or “good location for single women.” 

Instead, they should focus on the “what” not the “who.” Describe the property and neighborhood amenities, not the ideal candidate or the composition of the neighborhood’s population. 

DO: Apply the same objective criteria, such as neighborhood, property features and price range to all prospects. 

Example: Criteria that are not objective include, “family-friendly,” “men only,” or “great schools.” 

Discussing school districts is not an automatic Fair Housing Act violation. However, if an agent describes a school district as “good” or “bad,” it could be considered steering, i.e., encouraging or discouraging a client to live in a certain area because they are members of a protected class. 

Instead, focus on the facts – do not give opinions. If a client asks about a school district, the agent can provide facts, such as the school district name or number, but should not give opinions on the quality of the schools. If a client asks for more information, the agent can direct them to third-party aggregators of school district information. 

DON’T: Use language that steers buyers to or away from a property. 

“Steering” is when a client is directed to or away from a certain area or neighborhood based on their perceived or actual protected status or because of the racial, ethnic, or religious composition of that area. Steering is prohibited. 

Example: Referencing specific places of worship that might be attractive to potential buyers.   

Avoid any steering policies or practices in your listing. Instead, rely on the vast amount of information available to you about the physical property and its neighborhood.  

DO: Craft inclusive and descriptive language. 

So, how can real estate professionals ensure fairness in the public remarks section? It starts with mindfulness and awareness of the impact of language. Use objective descriptions of the property and its features.  

Example: Highlight amenities, such as wheelchair accessibility, without implying exclusivity. Emphasize the characteristics of the neighborhood without implying a preference for certain demographics. 

The public remarks section of a real estate listing isn’t just a space for describing properties; it’s a reflection of our commitment to fairness and equality in housing. By choosing inclusive language and educating ourselves, we can ensure that every individual has equal access to housing opportunities, regardless of their background or identity. Let’s harness the power of words to build communities where everyone feels welcome and valued. 

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