In the name of political correctness, many real estate agents are changing the verbiage in their MLS listing descriptions and marketing materials. This is done to not only be sensitive to potential home buyers, but to avoid lawsuits.
While the terms agents are getting rid of aren’t legally banned by federal Fair Housing laws, they may be offensive to some buyers. And, according to NOLA.com, after the passage of the 1968 Fair Housing Act, “Congress amended the law to allow virtually anyone offended by an ad’s wording to sue for money damages.” In fact, real estate professionals who publish said offensive ads can face “tens of thousands of dollars in legal payments and attorney fees, the suspension of their business license, and even jail time.”
Just last year, Tampa-area agent Jeff Launiere was sued for a listing description that was on his site—one that he didn’t even write. The plaintiff, Cristin Forrest, claimed that the description advertising a condo for sale that read “adult only community no children under 16” violated the Fair Housing Act by discriminating on the basis of familial status.
There’s a fine line between potentially offensive and actually discriminatory, but many realtors are deciding to play it safe by eliminating anything that could be considered offensive. So, what exactly are some of the real estate terms to avoid?
• Some agents are replacing “master bedroom” or “master suite” with “owner’s suite” given the underlying racial connotations.
• Others are getting rid of “his and hers closets” so as not to offend same-sex couples.
• “Handyman’s dream” or “handyman’s special” is being phased out as it may imply that women aren’t capable of fixing up a home.
• “Safe neighborhood” is no longer a safe bet as it doesn’t guarantee buyers will actually be safe in the area.
• Agents have distanced themselves from terms like “ideal bachelor pad” and “great for newlyweds” as buyers may in fact not be bachelors or newlyweds.
Overall, be careful with your verbiage and read over property descriptions before posting them to your site. Take note: as Launiere pointed out in a cautionary ActiveRain blog post, “most agents are not aware that they can be sued for any listing that appears in an MLS IDX feed, whether that listing is yours or not.”