I have often commented on the use of language in the real estate industry and there is much regulation to prevent or discourage discrimination. However, some of the simplest words or phrases, when presented out of context, can be trouble. Real estate brokers and appraisers take classes for licensing which include this topic. Most of my orientation is concerned with the lending side use of language but the listing side seems to be equally suspect.
Not specifically mentioned (as far as I can tell) in Fair Lending regulations but the following words drive me crazy:
In a random query of fair housing sources, a few phrases jumped out at me that I see used. Most are used in an innocent context, but its food for thought.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) which provides safety through insurance on your money in the bank has guidelines covering this:
Examples of subjective lending criteria that may lead to possible unlawful discrimination include:
The property should be in a “stable” or “rising” area, should be “well-maintained” and have an “attractive appearance” or “good curb appeal”
The neighborhood should be “desirable”; there should be “homogeneity of residents and structures”; or the neighborhood should reflect “satisfactory pride of ownership”
In Portsmouth Virginia, the city has developed a fair lending guide [pdf]
An excerpt from the section: Avoidance of Words, Phrases, Symbols, or Visual Aids in Advertising which Overtly Convey or Tacitly Convey Discriminatory Preferences or Limitations
Examples that could be used in a discriminatory context should be avoided:
- board approved (do we hear “co-op?)
The Miami Valley Fair Housing Center has a Fair Housing Advertising Word and Phrase List to assist local businesses to be in compliance with Ohio and federal fair housing laws.
- bachelor pad
- empty nesters
With all the superlatives thrown into the selling process, I would argue for a little more awareness, so the message you think you are conveying, is the message you are conveying, and its legal.
It’s unfortunate when words innocently chosen are interpreted to mean “acts” of discrimination are taking place. The discriminatory deed should condemn the man, not his listing copy.
Now you also have to worry about what words potential buyers could be using to describe your property as well. There was a write-up today in WSJ-REJ about ZipRealty Inc. and Reply Inc. about how their sites encourage consumers to comment on listings.
Are you allowed to say “in a gentrifying area”?