The other day, I was forwarded an ad for a new residential listing by an enthusiastic homeowner. They had listed with another agent and wanted me to know about the property. The title of the ad was “Gorgeous home in a family-oriented neighborhood.”
I can only hope this particular ad copy was penned by the homeowner, because if they were asking the agent to write it, the agent should just say no.
Everyone knows about the Fair Housing Act, right? In the course of advertising a property for sale or lease, one cannot discriminate — or present the appearance of discriminating — against a protected class in Pennsylvania. To read more about that, see the state page by clicking here.
The stakes for violating this law can be significant to the agent — up to the loss of license.
The golden rule in real estate is “talk about the property, not the people.” If you see advertising anywhere that makes reference to the kind of people that would prefer that property, you’re probably looking at a Fair Housing violation.
It makes sense; what exactly is a “family-oriented” neighborhood except the one that exists in the mind of the ad writer? Are they including single parents? Why should a single individual without a family be discouraged from buying in that neighborhood?
Fair Housing violations actually abound in the real estate industry — just watch for ads stating “great for first-time buyers” (economic), “walk to shops” (disabilities) and so on.
I have sat in listing meetings with a home seller telling me to advertise the property in such a fashion many times. People think this way; it’s understandable. It’s our job to translate that thinking into appropriate advertising such as “great price, great home” or “close to shops.”
Incidentally, the most common advertising that would be an exception would be surrounding 55-plus or retirement communities — the law has held that agents can legally advertise since the community does hold bylaws specifying age or lifestyle restrictions. Even then, I would be careful not to go beyond the straightforward “55+ buyers” advertising.
As real estate licensees, we’re required to take periodic refresher courses in applying the Fair Housing laws, and I think that’s a good thing.
Make sure if you’re selling or renting property in Pa. that you, too, are at least conversant in what you can and can’t say in your advertising and interviews. Don’t ask your agent to use phrases that might cause them grief.
Jeff Geoghan is a real estate agent and founder of www.yourlancasterhome.com in Lancaster County. He also hosts “YourLancasterHomeTV (tv.yourlancasterhome.com).” He also holds a Green designation from the National Association of Realtors and blogs about homes and green issues. He also volunteers as mayor of East Petersburg.