Disclaimer: This article is purely informational and is not meant to be legal advice. If you have any questions, please consult a licensed real estate lawyer.
You’ve loved raising your kids in this home and now that it’s time to sell it, you think the fastest way to find a buyer is to market the house as “family friendly.” Seems harmless, right?
Not so fast…Even if you have absolutely no intention to discriminate against any type of prospective buyer in the sale of your home, stating that your house is “family friendly” in your property listing or to potential buyers could violate fair housing laws.
This applies to not just “family friendly” language but any marketing that could be perceived as excluding a certain class of buyers in your marketing, and a fair housing violation could result in a complaint filed against you. In 2017, there were 28,843 housing discrimination complaints filed with agencies and organizations at the local, state, and national level.
To get clarity on this legal area in real estate we spoke to a top-selling agent who’s sold over 600 single-family homes and a fair housing attorney. With their insights, we’ll cover how to market a house that’s perfect for families without violating fair housing plus tips for crafting a listing description that focuses on the house itself rather than who you think might buy it.
What are the general fair housing rules around property descriptions?
The Fair Housing Act is a federal law that prohibits discrimination in housing because of race, color, religion, sex or gender, disability, national origin, or familial status.
According to Amy Glassman, fair housing attorney and coauthor of Beginner’s Guide to the Fair Housing Act, if you name one protected class in your home’s listing, you may be excluding others.
She adds that you shouldn’t say your house is “family friendly” because it refers to the familial status of prospective buyers, which violates the federal fair housing law.
“The basic rule is that you want to focus on the property and the amenities in the property and not the type of buyer that you want. You don’t want to use language that triggers reference to any of these protected classes,” she says.
Glassman adds, “Anyone who is looking to sell a house or hire a real estate agent should be aware that there are authentic state and local fair housing laws in their jurisdiction that are often more expansive than the federal law.”
Language such as “perfect for retirees,” “not suited for small children”, or “walking distance to churches” (which could be seen as excluding buyers with a disability or the nonreligious) appear harmless but are still a violation of fair housing laws.
State and local fair housing laws may protect more classes than federal housing laws which may or may not include income, veteran or military status, age, and more. You can find which protected classes are regulated by your state laws using The Policy Surveillance Program’s website.
Fair housing violations could result in a complaint
If someone believes that fair housing laws were violated, they can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“They would investigate it, they would determine if they think it has merit, and they would seek what’s called conciliation,” says Glassman. “So, they would essentially seek a settlement.”
A settlement of the violation could be the withdrawal of the offending ad, required training, or monetary damages.
“Assuming something settled, it’s whatever the party has decided is fair and reasonable and what both sides can agree to. If it doesn’t settle, it ultimately would find its way to court,” she says.
The best way to abide by fair housing laws is to work with an experienced real estate agent who is familiar with state and federal housing laws.
Market the family-friendly qualities of your home appropriately
Although you can’t say that your home is family-friendly, you can point out the amenities that buyers with families might often search for.
“If it’s close to schools and shopping and there are walking trails, it might be perfect for the family or the stay at home mom or whoever, but that’s not our place to make those decisions,” says Cheryl Bare, a Waldorf, Maryland real estate agent who’s sold 66% more properties than the average agent.
So, Bare says, stick to what the home has.
Here are some qualities that you can share about your home that might adhere to families.
- The house is located in a top school district.
Parents want to put roots down where their kids will thrive, so an above-average school district is often a must-have for families shopping for their next home. Moreso, a school district that doesn’t meet expectations could be the deal-breaker for a family.
The quality of the school district was the most important factor to 35% of home buyers between the ages of 37 and 51, while 31% cited the distance to schools as the most important factor.
Redfin and Zillow allow home buyers to search for homes based on school zones and the GreatSchool rating.
Check the quality of elementary, middle, and high schools in your area. If the schools are, in fact, great schools, you can include this information in your property’s listing without violating fair housing laws, according to Glassman.It is illegal, however, for buyers agents to “steer” buyers based on his or her own views about certain communities or schools.
- The house is positioned on a calm street or cul de sac.
Some parents may move from city life to the suburbs to raise their kids. They might dream of living where their kids can play in the street and sleep to the sounds of crickets instead of traffic and sirens. A peaceful street could be an important feature for buyers looking for a family-friendly house.
The fact that your house is located in a low-traffic area is appealing for many buyers, not just those with families. So, this information is OK to share, but be careful with your phrasing. A “quiet” street excludes hearing-impaired buyers and therefore should be used with caution.
- The house is close to shops, restaurants, and parks.
Michelin star restaurants, natural hiking trails, and one-stop-shops for daily necessities are features you should include in your home’s listing.But, phrases such as “walking distance” can bump up against fair housing laws because they exclude buyers with disabilities. To stay on the safe side, simply state that the property is “close to” or “near” certain amenities.
- “Low crime rate.”
Neighborhood safety is comforting for every new homeowner, especially those with kids. Crime statistics are safe to state in your home’s listing—just remember to stick to the data rather than neighborhood stigmas. So, instead of saying “safe neighborhood for kids”, share that the property is located in a neighborhood with a low crime rate.
- The house has a backyard and outdoor space.
A big backyard, with trees to climb and grass to roll in is a sought-after feature for many families. Fenced-in backyards are particularly appealing to parents with kids and pets.
“If you’re describing the backyard and the fencing—maybe you have a fenced-in pool—those are all elements of the property, so that’s fine,” says Glassman.Feel free to describe the elements of your backyard to their full extent to help you sell your home.
- Convenient entrances with extra storage.
Backpacks, sports gear, coats, and shoes clutter the doorway of family homes. Buyers of family-friendly homes dream of an out-of-sight mudroom for kids to drop their stuff so guests don’t trip as they come through the door.
An adjoining back door and mudroom make coming and going easy for every homeowner, especially those with little ones. Highlight the convenient entrances and storage to appeal to every buyer.
- The house is equipped with smart home technology that adds security, safety, and comfort.
Smart home systems are making it easier to control the temperature in your house, lock doors, turn off lights, and even access security cameras via microphone.
For a family with kids, this new home technology provides priceless peace of mind.If you’ve recently installed a new smart home system in your house, make sure to mention it to buyers. Include the details of your house that would make everyone feel more at ease.
- Ample square footage and bedrooms
Families often look for houses they can grow into. More space means more family buyers, so finished basements and attics or spare rooms that can be turned into a playroom or a teen space are hot-ticket features amongst families.
“You can describe features that you think are family friendly, but you shouldn’t say they’re family friendly,” says Glassman.Rather than advertising your finished basement as a playroom for kids, simply state that it’s a finished basement and let buyers decide what they’ll use it for.
- Use keywords in your listing description to target buyers hunting for certain features.
“Everybody’s online,” says Bare. “These buyers know exactly what they’re looking for and they’re typing it in. I’ve seen many careless listing agents forget to put things like a finished basement or forget to fill in the square footage.”
When you give buyers what they’re looking for, your house will sell itself. Work with your real estate agent to include every feature of your home in your listing. Buyers with or without families will be able to find your home based on the must-have features they search for.
Avoid fair-housing violations while selling your home
You raised your family in your house, so you know it’s family friendly. You might even find yourself daydreaming about the next family that moves into it.
However, when you list your home for sale, you cannot specify who your buyer preference is.
Fair housing laws prohibit discrimination of race, color, religion, sex or gender, disability, national origin, or familial status.
Marketing your home towards families specifically could violate this federal law. So, instead of marketing your home as “family friendly,” simply state the facts of your home to appeal to every buyer.