You Can’t Say That in Real Estate!

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Is your real estate listing offensive? You might not think so. But many words and phrases that have been standard language for decades are now being carefully scrutinized to avoid any unwanted legal attention.

Real estate professionals around the country are watching their wording, making sure to stay politically correct and avoid offending potential leads. According to a recent article in REALTORMag, major home builders in Washington, D.C. are reportedly no longer using the term “master bedroom” in their marketing content, due to “racist undertones.”

Other professionals in the real estate community are also choosing their words with caution as to avoid potential conflicts with the Fair Housing Act. While it may seem like overkill to some, in the big business of real estate, “better safe than sorry” appears to be the mantra.

Beth Brody, a licensed real estate agent in Marin County, Calif. recently spoke with REALTORMag on the issue, saying, “You can say ‘family room’ but not ‘family home.'”

Brody went on to explain that staying neutral is the main concern.

“We avoid anything gender-specific like ‘his-and-hers’ closets or baths,” she said.

See related post, “Study Finds Same Sex Couples More Likely to Experience Housing Discrimination.”

Brody also explained that her real estate agency uses a list of potentially offensive language which has grown over the years. The use of such lists is becoming more widespread within the industry, and for good reason. With discrimination lawsuits more prevalent than ever, it pays to have a politically correct marketing game plan.

Back in August, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a ruling and granted a new trial to the Miami Valley Fair Housing Center in a discrimination suit over an Ohio apartment listing that used the phrase, “bachelor pad.”

Other phrases that are likely to trigger problems, according to The Northwest Multiple Listings Service, include:

  • “newlyweds”
  • “country club nearby”
  • “handyman’s dream”
  • “safe neighborhood”
  • “secure”
  • “walking distance to”

Agents can be held liable for offensive listings – even if they don’t represent the property

In another fairly recent incident, an agent based in Tampa, FL got dragged into a federal lawsuit over the description of a property he did not represent. Although Jeff Launiere did not act as the listing agent on the property in question, since it was still listed on his site, he and the brokerage he works for, Chales Rutenberg Realty, were held liable in the discrimination suit. The suit was filed by Cristin Forrest – a self-proclaimed “independent fair housing tester” – after she discovered a listing advertising the sale of a condominium at Broadmoor Villa that stated no children under 16 were welcome in the community.

A March 13, 2013 article on explained that the community was also named in the suit, which alleged that all three parties violated the federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of familial status, among other things.

According to the article, Broadmoor Villa was dismissed from the case. Charles Rutenberg Realty agreed to settle – which may have left Launiere holding the bill for the $5,000 deductible on his brokerage’s errors and omissions insurance policy.

Experts say these incidents are rare, but the fact that they occur at all sheds light on the importance of avoiding potentially offensive language, images or anything else that may appear in the listing data.

Steph Meyer is a contributor to the Blog and keeps us up to date on interesting happenings within the world of home financing and real estate. She’s got a quick wit and keen eye on making smart financial decisions. My Google Profile+

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