Stop Using Schools to Sell Homes

Real estate professionals shouldn’t talk about the quality of the local schools, but more should get involved to make the schools better.

April 1, 2008

In 2006, a fair housing group called the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) was paid a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to employ "testers" to see if practitioners were steering buyers to or from neighborhoods because of race.

Real estate professionals use schools as "a proxy for the racial composition of a neighborhood," accuses the NFHA, which found that some practitioners told white buyers that schools located in interracial neighborhoods were "bad." But when the same practitioners had African American or Hispanic buyers, suddenly the "bad" schools and their neighborhoods were just fine, according to NFHA Director Shanna Smith.

When the NFHA files a fair housing violation against a broker with HUD, it is fully empowered to negotiate a settlement. The NFHA is allowed to keep the settlement money and use it to pay for more testers.

That means the hunt to expose discrimination is ongoing, and it could come to your brokerage next.

You already know that steering is wrong because discrimination is wrong. What you may not realize is steering also tears down communities and their schools.

Practitioners owe the community a better way to sell its homes.

Think about it this way — it’s not your job to help build equity wealth of one group of home owners while harming the equity wealth of other groups. It is your job to avoid the improprieties of discrimination, whether it’s overt or implied.

In the home-search process, buyers will naturally ask about schools. But think before you answer. Your buyers deserve to know more than the latest test scores; they deserve the whole story.

Get to Know Your Schools

Janie Christie, director of Fort Worth Independent School District’s Office of Public Engagement, says she would encourage real estate professionals to get to know their community’s schools, leadership, and programs.

“What scores tell us is state accountability and compliance with No Child Left Behind,” Christie says. “What they don’t tell us is what that campus or school is doing for every child — the whole child. Scores are measuring sticks to see if our children are learning on grade level, and it helps schools identify which children need more help, but the big picture is that they pit schools against each other.”

The Fort Worth Independent School District encourages local businesses to become partners in the schools, through volunteerism, donations, and programs for students and teachers.

Most school resources come from property values, so affluent districts have more money to spend on students.

But wait a minute — this is about race, isn’t it? Not really. It’s about wealth and what it can buy schools and their students. “Good” schools are wealthy with tools for success. “Bad” schools are burdened with cultural, social, and financial issues. But what can make the difference for those schools, Christie says, is support from parents, the community and the community’s business leaders.

Real estate professionals should take a leadership role in making a difference in their communities’ schools. Consider adopting a school. Imagine the difference you, your office, your franchise, or your association can make.

The next time you’re asked, “What about the schools?” You can say, “My office sponsors the high school. I have all the information you need!”

Practitioners are generous people — why not turn that can-do attitude toward fund-raising to make sure all schoolchildren have the same advantages beyond what the school system can provide: personal supplies, uniforms, tutors, and after-school enrichment programs, to name a few. You can read to children once a week in the library. Or volunteer for lunchroom duty. Or even sponsor a “Career Day.”

Don’t be guilty of following the pack by repeating information about schools or neighborhoods that you don’t know firsthand. Remember, you owe a duty to your buyer and to the local home owners as well. Why? Your buyers will become owners, and owners will one day become sellers.

Give your local schools a helping hand, help all schools be competitive with each other, and you’ll never have to worry whether you are using schools the wrong way again.

Help Your Schools and Surrounding Home Values

  • First, do no harm. Avoid overt or implied discrimination.
  • Contact your school district and its office of public engagement to learn the latest programs.
  • Meet your local schools’ principals, teachers, and PTA board to learn what is offered at each school.
  • Serve as your community’s business liaison to the school district.
  • Provide interning programs that teach children about owning and operating a home, and how to do typical maintenance and repairs using homes owned by seniors who may need help. Enrichment programs engage students to be excited about the world.

Blanche Evans is a writer/editor and CEO of evansEmedia. Formerly, she was a senior editor with Realty Times, where she was named by REALTOR® Magazine as one of the most influential people in the real estate industry.