3 Ways to Respond to Buyer Questions That Challenge Fair Housing Law

March 1, 2005

Problem: You’ve heard it a hundred times from buyers, and you still don’t have a good answer: “What kinds of people live in this neighborhood?”

Solution: The key is to provide concrete information that’ll give buyers a sense of the area without mentioning protected classes: race, color, religion, sex, national origin, handicap, or familial status. Next time, instead of stammering when a buyer poses this dreaded question, try these legal—yet customer-friendly—responses.

1. Focus on economic status and occupation, which aren’t protected by fair housing law. If you mention people you know or have worked with in the area, don’t describe them in a way that includes a protected class.

Say: “This is a middle-income neighborhood. Many of the folks who live here work at the businesses downtown. It’s a very easy commute from here. For example, Bob Smith, my accountant, just lives in the next block.”

2. Focus on specifics about the neighborhood that give a sense of its personality, such as whether it has many long-term residents or first-time homebuyers. Information on the number of sales in the area may also give buyers a sense of an area’s stability and vitality.

Say: “Most of the houses in the subdivision were built about 20 years ago, and a lot of the original buyers still live here. Aren’t the houses beautifully maintained?”

3. Focus on providing objective data from third-party sources. Making the data available to all clients also could protect you from charges of discrimination.

Say: “I get that question a lot, so I asked the chamber of commerce to provide me with a fact sheet about the area’s demographics that I could offer to all my clients. That way, you’ll have all the data to take with you. I also put the chamber’s number at the bottom so you can call if you have any more questions.”

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