Understanding the LGBT Niche

Marriage equality laws are affecting the purchasing decisions of same-sex partners. You need to be aware of what’s changed.

March 19, 2014

Everyone in real estate has to determine how he or she is going to make a living. The most successful practitioners also figure out how they can make a meaningful impact. Wendy Levy, CRS, broker-owner of IDEAL Properties of Denver has found her calling helping lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender clients.

“It’s been a pleasure to work with people in my community who have similar concerns. For me, it’s about doing a service for people,” says Levy, who has been in the business 30 years.

Broader social acceptance and increased legal protections have been empowering for LGBT consumers, but bias remains a reality. A HUD study released last June found that same-sex couples were less likely to receive favorable responses to e-mail inquiries about advertised rental housing than heterosexual couples—even in states with legislative protections. Meanwhile, Article 10 of NAR’s Code of Ethics prohibits REALTORS® from discriminating based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Indeed, the commitment to providing equal treatment is also a smart business move. According to a Harris Interactive survey, about 66 percent of LGBT adults say that they would remain loyal to a brand they believed to be friendly to and supportive of the LGBT community. Levy, whose business is nearly all referral, focuses on client outreach with regular events such as dog park gatherings and picnics.

Levy also belongs to the National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Professionals, a networking and referral resource that provides services to more than 25,000 LGBT home buyers and sellers each month.

Eric Axelson, a sales associate with Kurfiss Sotheby’s International Realty in Philadelphia who is openly gay, says that 25 percent of his business is with LGBT clients. “As a population, we still like to be marketed to, whether it’s by a beer or a car company or a real estate agent or real estate franchise,” he says.

Though the federal Fair Housing Act does not include sexual orientation as a protected class, more and more states and municipalities offer protections. Practitioners who reach out to the LGBT community, though, should be mindful not to “reverse discriminate” against heterosexuals. Here are advertising practices to keep in mind.

  • Don’t steer LGBT clients—or any client—to a specific neighborhood.
  • Use consistent language in all advertising for the same property.
  • Describe a property’s attributes without using gender-specific terms. Refer to “double sink vanity” rather than “his and her vanity.”
  • You can express that you’re LGBT-friendly, but use a variety of advertising vehicles and don’t exclude particular groups.

Gay couples face a variety of legal scenarios in regard to purchasing property, depending on the state they live in and legal relationship status, says Los Angeles real estate attorney Wendy Hartmann.

“People in the [17] states that recognize same-sex marriage have an easy situation; not only does the federal government recognize their marriage, but the state does as well,” she says. That means, for example, that the death of one member of a couple does not trigger federal estate taxes for the surviving member.

Since property tax and title transfer laws are set by states, a couple who get married in Illinois but purchase property in Florida will be subject to Florida’s tax laws, since that state doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages.

Real estate professionals should be sure to understand the status of their clients’ relationship, Hartmann says, and refer them to a real estate attorney who can help draw up any contracts they need.

Erica Christoffer
Product Manager

Erica Christoffer is the product manager for REALTOR® Magazine, driving growth and helping make data-driven decisions for the editorial products and programs that fall under the publication's umbrella. Erica also co-manages the magazine's 30 Under 30 program. During her tenure as an editor, she wrote and edited hundreds of articles for the magazine and launched the Broker to Broker section. Connect with Erica via email: echristoffer@nar.realtor.