HYANNIS — When a Realtor guides a client through finding a new home, they might point them in a certain direction, believing they are helping the home buyer.
But that can be steering, where a Realtor influences a buyer’s choice of communities based on race, color, religion, gender or another protected characteristic. The practice is expressly prohibited under the Fair Housing Act.
The Cape Cod & Islands Association of Realtors membership recently voted “overwhelmingly” to require members undergo continual training on fair housing, according to a press release. Members now have until Dec. 31, 2024 to complete the first round of training.
Association CEO Ryan Castle said the move was spurred by a three-year Newsday investigation that revealed discrimination by real estate agents in the Long Island area, saying it “really shook up the industry.”
“A lot of us asked: ‘How can we do better?'” Castle said.
The local real estate association, which was established in 1926, reports having about 2,600 members.
Training will help prevent Fair Housing Act violations
The new approach means Realtors would have to complete at least two hours of education every three years to maintain membership. The requirement only applies to Realtors belonging to the Cape Cod & Islands Association of Realtors and excludes real estate licensees who aren’t a Realtor member.
Sometimes, the nuances of fair housing, coupled with unconscious bias, can lead to a real estate agent unintentionally violating the law. Another instance of discrimination: a Realtor may require a mortgage preapproval before showing homes to some people, but not for all, Castle said.
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“What you should do for one, you should do for all,” he said.
In tandem with the Massachusetts Association of Realtors, the association is also urging state lawmakers to add fair housing as a required course for renewal of either a state real estate salesperson or broker’s license.
State bill pending to also require fair housing course
While that bill is pending in the state legislature, Castle said the association felt an urgency to take action as a trade organization.
“We wanted to take the onus on ourselves and raise the standard in the industry,” he said.
The mandated training also dovetails with the Cape Cod & Islands Association of Realtors’ new continuing education course “Protecting the Protected Classes.” The class was approved by the Massachusetts Board of Registration of Brokers and Salespersons and dives into protected classes and how certain actions may violate fair housing laws.
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The course is available to Cape Cod & Islands Association of Realtors for free and is open to other members of other local Realtor associations for a fee.
Castle said he hopes the push to educate Realtors about fair housing ultimately gives home buyers a “consistent experience.”
“I know that’s not always going to be the case,” he said, “but the idea is we hope to elevate the marketplace at the end of the day and make people more aware of home purchase discrimination.”