Steering and Discrimination – What Prompted the Recent Chatter?
In an article published by Newsday on November 17, 2019, Newsday reported that almost half of all black homebuyers and renters on Long Island are likely to face discrimination from real estate agents and brokers. Newsday conducted a three-year undercover investigation of real estate practices in Nassau and Suffolk counties to reach this conclusion. Their report included 240 hours of meetings between agents and pairs of testers (e.g., one white and one black, with similar financial profiles and similar home searches). Unfortunately, Newsday concluded that agents treated buyers very differently because of their race.
What is steering?
Steering is the practice of influencing, guiding, or directing homebuyers or renters toward or away from particular neighborhoods, areas, or communities based on their race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, disability or other characteristics that are protected under fair housing laws. Under the Fair Housing Act, this is illegal. Fair housing laws are in place to give all groups equal access to housing and to protect against discrimination. Ultimately, steering limits the housing options available to homebuyers and renters.
How does steering occur?
There are multiple ways steering can occur, and real estate agents must avoid steering under all circumstances. As a real estate broker, I constantly think about whether my comment could be construed as steering, even though I have zero intention of indicating a preference for any class. Most commonly, since we represent a lot of families with small children, we are asked about neighborhood schools. It is often a challenge to answer this question in a way that satisfies our clients. We make it a point to stick to the facts and refer them to various websites that discuss school rankings, without offering any opinion. We can’t talk about crime rates, or voice an opinion about a neighborhood, or discuss neighborhood demographics. If they are interested, homebuyers have to get this information from other sources.
How do we fix this?
The answer to this question is challenging. In part, it is challenging because many real estate agents have no intention of steering but do it without realizing. For people who fall in this bucket, awareness is key. We must keep reminding ourselves that many things we say innocuously can be construed differently and in a discriminatory way. Agents need to be vigilant in thinking about this concern and choosing our words carefully. We all must make a concerted effort to focus on our words and to avoid answering certain questions, all while keeping in mind our goal of adding value for our clients.
Then there are the agents who steer purposely. This is a more difficult challenge to overcome. Many agents know the laws and choose to ignore them, but, usually, they do this in a discreet way. Rarely, an agent would say to someone in an email or over the phone, “we don’t sell to black people in this town.” Instead, an agent might talk to certain groups about certain neighborhoods and not others. They might only send clients listings in certain neighborhoods, or perhaps they talk about “good” schools only to certain groups.
At Digs, we are committed to living by the Fair Housing Act. REBNY has been offering training and distributing weekly tips that have been quite helpful. We are reminding all our agents to take the training courses and follow the guidelines. What happened in Long Island likely happens all over the country, and it is NOT OK.
Digs does not discriminate and offers rebates to everyone regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, disability or other protected characteristics!