Some time ago, in the last century, in the second year of this writer’s life, an important event happened (in addition to my third birthday). This event was preceded by a long and turbulent history. Many attempts had been made to level the playing field long before this time; however, it took a nail in the coffin of civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King to tip the scales of justice in the direction of fair housing. Finally, a national policy was declared across the United States known as the Fair Housing Act. This law makes it illegal to make housing unavailable because of race, color, religion, sex, disability, marital status, or national origin. Since then, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has added sexual orientation and gender identity to the list.
The National Association of Realtors went further. Section 10 of the Code of Ethics states that “Realtors shall not refuse equal professional services to (all of the above categories)”. This was recently expanded to include discriminatory speech and behavior even outside of members’ real estate practices. Finally…we’ve come a long way, baby…or have we?
Last week I received a frantic phone call from a gentleman. He was difficult to understand and he spoke very quickly. I allowed him to tell his story, then I repeated to him, slowly, what I thought he had told me. He apologized to me for not speaking “very good English”. I assured him there was no need to apologize, that I would be sure he was understood one way or another. However, after hearing his story, I had really hoped that there had been a misunderstanding resulting from a language barrier rather than what I had heard had actually happened.
He told me he met someone at the grocery store who introduced himself as a real estate agent. He had told her that he was looking for a house and had been prequalified, but was having a very hard time finding one because he had no extra money to compete for and the type of loan he was getting was not as favorable in a multiple offer. situation as well. Although this person was somehow able to understand the gentleman’s dilemma, somewhere along the line they suddenly lost the ability to understand it. Confusing.
She explained to him that she had the perfect solution. She knew of a house that was sold by the owner and she could present an offer to the seller without this gentleman having to compete because it was not listed. He enthusiastically accepted. She showed him pictures and gave him the address to “drive by”. She explained that this is how things are done with owner-sold homes. She did not inform him of the need for a home inspection. The day before closing, he walked through the house for the first time. It was not a house he could live in. He told her he wanted to back off. He realized that he would lose his deposit, but he could not proceed with the purchase. She in turn told him that the salesman would sue him and take all his money if he didn’t. That’s when a friend of his (a former client of mine) told him to call me.
After a little research, I found out that the house was actually listed on MLS, not for sale by owner, and the listing agent was the same agent representing him. Needless to say everything is “fixed” now. But why would she think she could take advantage of this man? Have we really come a long way, baby? Unfortunately, it looks like we have a long way to go. The conversation surrounding fair housing is far from over.
Jen Fischer is an associate broker and real estate agent. She can be reached at 801-645-2134 or [email protected]