Recognizing and removing bias when working with LGBTQ customers

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The LGBTQ community often faces unique challenges and dynamics in the real estate industry. Like many minority groups, they navigate what can feel like a maze of possible discrimination, as well as a patchwork of legal and professional association protections. Discrimination in the buying and renting process, on top of a host of other factors, contribute to lower LGBTQ home ownership rates

Discrimination against LGBTQ real estate buyers can manifest itself in a variety of ways. Recent data shows there is a pattern of discrimination in lending practices when LGBTQ buyers are seeking a mortgage. LGBTQ folks also often fear receiving hate or prejudice from neighborhood communities they move into. This fear is likely exacerbated when public figures in their communities politically support discrimination

LGBTQ-friendly communities also tend to be less accessible. The cost of homes in areas with housing protections for LGBTQ people are 63% more expensive, on average. This price difference combines economic and social exclusivity as factors the LGBTQ community must navigate on a regular basis. 

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Fortunately, there are also instances of public support and assistance for LGBTQ renters and buyers. The National Association of REALTORS prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. There are also professional real estate associations to support LGBTQ agents and clients.

However, individual agents must embody the Association’s support in their day-to-day work with LGBTQ clients and colleagues. Reducing LGBTQ discrimination in real estate requires agents to know the local legal environment and social culture, as well as what steps they can take to proactively support their LGBTQ clients. 

Legal Protections and Lawsuits against LGBTQ Discrimination

The legal protections for LGBTQ housing varies dramatically in the United States depending on where you are. Many real estate schools teach students that all U.S. citizens are protected from discrimination by the 14th Amendment. However, even national legislation is enforced differently based on what legal cases apply to a given jurisdiction. This means that agents have to invest more time in learning what laws, lawsuits, and specific protections apply to their clients. 

Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 is the most famous and comprehensive federal protection against housing discrimination. It explicitly prohibits the denial of housing to “any person because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.” Unfortunately, it does not explicitly protect individuals from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. 

Much like the 14th Amendment, there has been an ongoing legal battle for protections to be expansively interpreted to include the LGBTQ community as well as other minority groups. In most cases, each protection, in each jurisdiction, must be decided separately absent a Supreme Court ruling on the matter. This leaves much of the LGBTQ in murky legal waters in terms of what protections are afforded them on a federal level.

The Fair Housing Act has been applied differently depending on the legal jurisdiction a buyer is in. Some courts have ruled that the Fair Housing Act extended to sexual orientation, since the discrimination is based in part because on the sex of the buyer or party in question. There are also some indirect or situational cases where the Act may afford housing protections. 

However, there are cases to the contrary at the federal level in which the Fair Housing Act hasn’t protected LGBTQ people from discrimination. The inconsistency in rulings adds to the instability LGBTQ buyers and renters can face in the real estate industry. 

Local Protections

State and local legislatures and organizations have taken LGBTQ protections into their own hands. 23 states and the District of Columbia currently provide protections from housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity– usually both. 

Agents and buyers should also be aware of distinctions that state laws make between renting and purchasing a home. Legal cases, and public awareness, tend to be more focused on discrimination on the part of landlords or property management companies. 

There are some states that do explicitly prohibit discrimination in the “sale of real estate.” Unfortunately, protections against lending discrimination, insurance policy discrimination, and the other necessary and related aspects of purchasing a home are more variable. 

Local municipalities may also provide some protections. A common local measure is a Human Rights Ordinance, which provides protections against a wide range of discriminations for many minority groups. 

While the specific protections and protected groups can vary, many new and preexisting HROs prohibit discrimination in housing on the basis of sexual orientation. Even in cases where an HRO doesn’t provide LGBTQ housing protections, there are many online resources to help local community members get those protections added to existing rules. 

4 Ways Agents can Identify and Address Bias Against LGBTQ Customers

There is still a likelihood of discrimination even in communities with the most progressive protections. Real estate agents are crucial to navigating, mitigating, and eliminating housing discrimination their LGBTQ customers and community members may face. Here are 4 ways agents can actively support their LGBTQ clients and colleagues. 

  1. Stay Locally Educated and Informed

The legal, social, and economic dynamics LGBTQ people face in real estate are far from static. As their industry expert and guide, agents have a responsibility to be informed and up to date on all factors and conditions that can impact LGBTQ clients’ buying journey. 

This is as much a personal process as it is professional. In addition to legal protections  and statutes, consider factors like using folks’ preferred pronouns, being aware of community dynamics that are accepting or hostile towards the LGBTQ community, etc. Investing this continual effort is crucial not only to be compliant with local laws, but also to ensure that your business and community is welcome to all its members. 

  1. Consider Professional Trainings

There are a range of trainings available to real estate agents around LGBTQ discrimination in real estate. For more tailored, industry-specific, and professional training, aspiring agents looking to get licensed should see what resources are available from real estate schools. They will likely excel at preparing agents to navigate the legal side of LGBTQ housing protections over other resources. 

Industry-agnostic training can help experienced agents looking to better support their LGBTQ clients. There is a wide range of publicly available and easily accessible resources for how to respectfully and professionally serve clients in the LGBTQ community. Many communities have in person training, as well as online resources that agents can self-serve. 

  1. Avoid Steering Clients based on LGBTQ identities

Agents should be aware and cautious of potentially “steering” LGBTQ clients to certain listings or areas based on their identity. Preemptively steering clients based on their LGBTQ status, or any other personal identity, unfairly limits the clients’ options and often boxes them in to more expensive or financially exclusionary options. This is still the case even if agents steer clients unintentionally or in good faith to help them find “good fit” communities.

In order to prevent this issue, agents should not remove potential listings or options from what they present to LBGTQ clients on the basis of their identity. Instead, present the listings with all the relevant information for each listing, just as agents would with any other client. Then wait for the clients themselves to dictate the limits of what options they want to see in person. Only factor for things like explicitly LGBTQ-friendly neighborhoods if clients ask for it. This will help agents avoid unduly boxing clients in to certain options. 

  1. Speak Up and Take the Initiative

Real estate agents work in an industry that depends heavily on networking and personal relationships, both with clients and with each other. This professional dynamic magnifies the impact, and importance, of agents actively speaking up and acting as professional allies, when possible. 

This is equally important when advocating in favor of support and allyship, and calling out instances of discrimination within the industry. Whether it be in an agent’s office, brokerage, professional association, or local community, they have the ability to move the needle on the surrounding culture that extends beyond their individual actions. 

This also applies to working with customers in the industry. Agents can keep their LGBTQ clients informed of local resources and policies. This knowledge will pay dividends both to the professional relationship and those clients’ comfort within the community. 

Making Change in Our Communities

The LGBTQ community can face a host of discriminations in housing. Fortunately, real estate agents are excellently positioned to inform and support LGBTQ buyers and listers. The most important steps are to keep buyers informed about what legal protections they have and provide them with the social and communal support to feel confident in what could be the largest financial decision of their lives. 

Like any industry, there is always more work to be done to make the real estate professional community more inclusive and accessible. Towards that end, we are developing an upcoming initiative to continue pushing our industry to be more inclusive of traditionally marginalized groups. Our Inclusion Initiative is intended to touch on diverse leadership, participation, and creating a more inclusive, accessible, and welcoming culture. 

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