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Empower homefront heroes with source of income freedom, fairness

Empower homefront heroes with source of income freedom, fairness

This Memorial Day, Dr. Lee Davenport writes, in addition to words of gratitude and affirmation, it’s even more important that our veterans have access to affordable housing choices that accept their hard-earned benefits. 

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Did you know that some veterans and their families are being denied housing, not because of sketchy background checks or dismal credit, but simply because they want to use their hard-earned military benefits?

Have you ever noticed the rental ads that automatically say, “No vouchers allowed” or something similar?

Well, that excludes a lot of people, including those who are veterans and members of military families. And, unfortunately, part of the benefits that those who have served, as well as their families, receive comes in the form of a subsidy, also known as the “shamed and shunned” housing voucher.

Check out the video up top and read on as I share more information about the struggles veterans face when finding affordable housing and some action steps you can take to help become an advocate for them.

‘Vouchers to nowhere’

Whether we call it a subsidy or voucher, it all falls under one’s source of income.

Currently, on this map the blue, whether dark or light, represents places that actually have some form of source of income protections. Everywhere else on this map, shockingly, does not.

In many of the places where landlords and other real estate professionals are opposing legislation to protect those who have some form of an income subsidy in order to have housing choices, there is also an affordable housing crisis. That means opting out of income subsidies takes away a lot of housing options for military families along with others when and where a source of income freedom is not a legal right.

The ‘problems’ with vouchers

Protected classes under federal, state and local fair housing laws ensure that people who can legally qualify for a home (whether buying or leasing) are given the freedom of choice, access and opportunity without regard to some superficial, tangential line like one’s color, use of an assistive device or if one’s income is sourced by the government through employment or a subsidy. 

Yet, what is protected in one state may not be in others. To that point, source of income protections are not nationwide as some cite the hassle of voucher programs, deepening the affordable housing crisis for many, including some veterans.

Personally, whether I was working as a property manager or as the landlord of my own properties, I always loved working with people who had vouchers. One, you could still do background and credit checks — you still could do what you needed to do to make sure they qualify for the home and would take care of the home. Two, once your property was approved and you signed up for direct deposit, the funds typically hit like clockwork (at least for me in Georgia).

Yes, it could be a minor hassle to deal with the voucher program’s property inspections, but the inspection report and subsequent repair requests typically were the things that anybody living in a home would expect to have in working order.

Frankly, I pivoted my thinking to seeing the voucher program’s annual home inspections as a complimentary service that ensured my properties stayed in tip-top shape without my doling out cash to have my own, separate annual inspection (which we did with properties outside of the voucher program).

Housing options > Words of affirmation

Memorial Day is in a few weeks, and I know many of us like to extend a heartfelt “Thank you for your service,” which is nice. But, in addition to words of gratitude and affirmation, it’s even more important that our veterans have access to affordable housing choices that accept their hard-earned benefits. 

If you are in a city, county or state that does not have source of income as a protected class generally, and veterans/military particularly, then I want to encourage you to contact your local government officials to make this a priority. Goodness knows some of my representatives’ staff knows me by name!

You may be pleasantly surprised and discover they are looking for more real estate industry voices in favor of fair housing for veterans, as well as others who receive subsidized income.

Dr. Lee Davenport is a real estate coach/educator and author who trains real estate agents to provide access and opportunity in real estate. Connect with her on Instagram.

April is Fair Housing Month. How to handle a sensitive topic with grace

April is Fair Housing Month. How to handle a sensitive topic with grace

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Did you know that instances of the illegal practice of “redlining” have been documented within just the past decade? We are not talking about 60 years ago. We are talking about now.

Shockingly, we do not have to look at data prior to federal fair housing laws in 1968 to find occurrences. See the Department of Justice’s Combatting “Redlining” Initiative, which has secured over $107 million in relief for communities of color for modern-day instances of unfair housing. 

Yes, we have fair housing laws now, with the most monumental beginning in 1968, spurred by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s tragic assassination. However, laws are not Disney magic. In other words, laws did not instantly mean all violations would stop.

Laws simply mean that if someone is caught and there is enough evidence, that person may face some penalty. The same applies to illegal, unfair housing practices.

Thus, it would be wise to have a fair housing edition of “the talk” with your homeowner clients. I know many think of the birds and the bees when we say “the talk,” but there is another talk that is key for fair housing.

Do you know how to help your clients avoid redlining and other forms of unfair housing (including unfair lending)? 

As real estate professionals, we are often our clients’ first and sole trusted advisers. Thus, it is key that we proactively “school” them on what fairness in real estate looks like before it happens.

1. Tell clients that it is illegal to exclude (or be excluded) based on any legally protected class

Federally, we have the big seven protected groups: race, religion, national origin, color, sex, disability and familial status. Local governments may also include designations like “military status” or “returning citizen.”

Let’s not take for granted what our clients know. Share the ever-expanding laws that apply to your area by connecting with your local fair housing center.

Here’s data showing that, though homes should be appraised for more over the past few years due to how quickly the market has appreciated, some sellers may be illegally lowballed (given a value that’s lower than comparables support) based on a protected class. 

Plus, here are some first-hand accounts:

Let’s help sellers decode unfair housing (and lending) like low appraisals before they happen.

2. Share the comps for their area

Whether you work with homebuyers or sellers, one of your first appointments should review what homes in the area are selling for. Review trends such as now versus six months ago versus one to five years ago. When clients know “the comps,” not only are their expectations better informed, but they can also be more alert to unfair practices.

Thankfully, Dr. Shani Mott, a history educator at Johns Hopkins University, and her family were well aware of their local market values. They got a second appraisal, approximately $250,000 more than the original quote. 

Tip: Providing annual area comps for past clients creates goodwill and keeps us top-of-mind for future real estate deals.

Yet, not every homeowner has this information handy depending on their day-to-day activities (including any health challenges and family obligations) and career focus. Unfortunately, Dr. Mott was battling cancer at the time, which recently claimed her life. 

“The function, the very serious function of racism [I will broaden this to any form of discrimination], is a distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being.” –Toni Morrison, Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winner

Dr. Shani Mott spent her last days dreaming of a time when her family and anyone after her would have more standardized remedies in place. It’s a travesty that her attention was divided and even distracted by dealing with a low home valuation.

Thankfully, some of the reforms in the past few years are helping to improve homeseller experiences. Now, sadly, but in honor of her determination, we can add the informally coined “Shani Law” to our advocacy. 

Tip: Inform clients that there is currently no nationwide policy to contest a home valuation. This is where continued advocacy becomes vital.

3. Explain, encourage, and be open to beta testing

With the low appraisal example, “staging” a home for an appraisal may mean having a person of an opposite protected class standing in for the actual homeowner. That would look like a Christian for Muslim, able-bodied for differently abled, DINK (dual income couple with no kids) for a family of five, male for female, and so forth. 

Of course, staging a home should only entail neutralizing the property, not the people who own it. However, since the 1940s and 1950s, often the only way that unfair housing (and lending, including lowballed appraisals) can be determined is if testers (similar to secret shoppers) of a differing protected class step in and pretend to be the client.

Testers may reveal problematic, unfair housing (and lending), such as low appraisals, steering, redlining, denial of services or accommodations and the like.

4. Encourage clients to report concerns or issues

If your client’s spidey senses are tingling due to possible illegal treatment, encourage them to go with their intuition and document and report any instances of unfair housing. Often, the reason unfair housing can continue unchecked is because it is not reported.

The National Fair Housing Alliance has estimated that though there are upward of 30,000 reports of housing discrimination annually, that is likely only 1 percent of actual fair housing violations.

If your clients are not sure if their spidey senses are on point and need a consult before going straight to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or your local fair housing center (where things can get real, fast), start with a consult with lower stakes by going to either of the following resources:

Dr. Lee Davenport is a real estate coach/educator and author (of including Be a Fair Housing D.E.C.O.D.E.R. and How to Profit with Your Personality). Dr. Lee trains real estate agents around the globe on how to work smarter with their unique personalities and how to “advocate, not alienate,” so everyone has access and opportunity in real estate.

What to do if a client says, ‘I’m not selling my home for THAT price’

What to do if a client says, ‘I’m not selling my home for THAT price’

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Listing agents must be meticulous about a home’s details and how it is presented to prospective buyers. Top-producing agents often have their own checklist of tried and true tasks and recommendations they give to the homeseller to help them prepare their home to receive the best offer.

But what happens when your homeowner seemingly does everything right, and the tried and true checklist fails?

  • Curb appeal – Check
  • Staged to a neutral palette and decluttered – Check
  • Priced competitively according to the most recent home sales/comps – Check

So why is this homeowner being lowballed in such a competitive housing market?

Uncovering the truth about lowball appraisals may surprise you; even in 2024, homesellers still face this issue.

Getting lowballed despite a competitive market

One elephant in the room regarding being lowballed while selling a home comes from unfair housing practices.

Yes, we have fair housing laws now, with the most monumental beginning in 1968, spurred by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s tragic assassination. However, laws are not “Disney magic.” In other words, laws did not instantly mean all violations would stop. 

The belief that laws stop violations is the biggest myth I consistently have to dispel with those in the industry and everyday community members. 

To explain this common misconception, I like to reference how “Dateline” and true crime podcasts show that although kidnapping, murder and other crimes have been illegal, they still happen.

Laws simply mean that if someone is caught and if there is enough evidence, that person may possibly face some sort of penalty. It is no different for illegal, unfair housing practices.

Thus, we would be wise to have “The Talk,” fair housing edition, to ensure homeowners sell. I know many think of the “birds and the bees” when we say “The Talk,” but there is another talk that is key for what I call being a fair housing DECODER (one who seeks to advocate, not alienate).

Why ‘The Talk’ matters

I was intrigued by and grateful for this comment left on an article I recently wrote for HousingWire. My empathy (the “E” of the DECODER acronym) kicked in, so please hear me out.

John Baldwin

February 1, 2024 at 12:22 pm

How are you concluding that past discrimination by the federal government, lenders and real estate agents is the fault of current real estate appraisers? We are hired to provide an unbiased opinion of current market value for a given property in its market area. We can’t ignore sales in the same market because of past discrimination. And we don’t care who may occupy the property. We are getting sick and tired of being wrongfully accused of bias when we are just doing our job.

I want to highlight a few phrases that this commenter left that may resonate with many in our industry – myself included:

  • fault of current…”
  • We are getting sick and tired of being wrongfully accused of bias when we are just doing our job”

Let’s address these specifically, as well as his full comment.

First, let’s review current data to support how unfair housing did not disappear with a seemingly “bibbidi bobbidi boo” from the legislative pen. Sadly, it still happens.

Here’s data showing that although homes should be appraising for more over the last few years due to how quickly the market has appreciated, some sellers may be lowballed based on a protected class.  

Plus, here are some first-hand accounts.

As a nerdy author, I always link to the data if you have time to review the datasets but I know sometimes the raw data is skipped due to it often being too technical. This is why I try to simultaneously share personal stories, especially by video, like the link above.

Although unfair housing is likely not the practice of every appraiser by any stretch, it is still imperative to have “The Talk” to raise awareness and community members’ savviness. 

Proactive awareness-raising is preparation, and preparation is never lost time. Essentially, they are cautionary tales that we would be wise to heed without going through the “School of Hard Knocks.”

The same is true with most violations, including unfair housing. Thus, instead of personalizing the issues that have been documented — that we have had no part in — and being disheartened, I want to encourage us to be proactive change agents.  

If you have not participated in unfair housing, you are not guilty or at fault for past episodes. Yet, the broader point of fair housing advocacy is that we all have a responsibility as we advance to ensure everyone has equal access and opportunity.

In short, we can affirm to clients, “This is an issue, but here’s how I want you to stay on guard.”

Essentially, we can acknowledge the problem and assure people it does not happen on our watch. Interestingly, that becomes a key tenet of business growth (that the community knows, likes, and trusts you). Thus, proactive awareness raising is a key marketing and business growth strategy and an advocacy strategy – a win-win. Booyah!

Be a fair housing DECODER

First, sellers should know how much the homes in their area are going for. As their real estate pro, you can provide the most recent home sales (the comps).

Secondly, and unfortunately, “staging” a home for an appraisal, may mean having a person of an opposite protected class being a stand-in for the actual homeowner. Of course, staging a home should only entail neutralizing the property, not the people who own it.

However, since the 1940s and 1950s, often the only way that unfair housing (and lending, including lowballed appraisals) can be determined is if testers (similar to secret shoppers) of a differing protected class step in and pretend to be the homeowner (e.g. Christian vs. Muslim, white vs. Black, person without a disability vs. person with a disability, male vs. female, single vs. single with kids, etc.).

Fair housing testers are sent out annually by local fair housing agencies to detect unfair housing (but many offices need volunteers). Laws did not stop the need to uncover discrimination, but laws provide a level of remedy if exposed. Such knowledge is only power for clients.

If you are not sure if your “spidey senses” are on point and need a consult before going straight to HUD, start with:

Thirdly, go with your intuition and document and report any instances of unfair housing. Often, unfair housing can continue unchecked because it is typically not reported. The National Fair Housing Alliance has estimated that although there are upwards of 30,000 reports of housing discrimination annually, that is likely only 1 percent of actual fair housing violations.

Lee Davenport is a licensed real estate broker, trainer and coach. Follow her on YouTube or visit her website.