– “poor neighborhood”
– “good neighborhood”
– “crime-ridden area”
– “desirable neighborhood or location”
– “undesirable neighborhood or location”
Why is this list important? Fannie Mae wants appraisers to stay objective about the criteria they use to describe and value properties. Appraisers need to not let their personal opinions, beliefs or subjective judgements about certain neighborhoods influence the content or outcome of an appraisal. Fannie Mae basically reiterates the Fair Housing Act in saying it is a prohibited practice to base the “opinion of market value (either partially or completely) on the race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin, of either the prospective owners or occupants of the property being appraised or the present owners or occupants of the properties in the vicinity of that property” (B4-1 Pg 536 in Seller’s Guide).
Not about being politically correct: Sometimes when this conversation comes we might hear, “Dude, stop being politically correct,” or “Don’t get all woke on me,” or “It’s not your place to tell me what to say.” But this has nothing to do with being PC and everything to do with being professional, showing respect, and recognizing that words have meaning. The truth is there are always new things to learn and sometimes old dogs need to learn new tricks (myself included).
SUBJECTIVE LANGUAGE ISN’T USEFUL:
Pride of ownership: What does “pride of ownership” mean? Couldn’t pride mean something different depending on who you are talking to? Saying a neighborhood has pride or not doesn’t help anyone understand an area. So if someone says, “The neighborhood lacks pride and it’s a bad area,” that’s probably more of a declaration of personal bias rather than useful language to objectively describe an area.
Luxurious community: On the other hand when we say a location is luxurious, what does that mean? The word is so subjective because one person’s luxury is another person’s dump. That’s why I might suggest saying something like, “The neighborhood fetches some of the highest-prices in the zip code with homes typically above 5,000 sq ft., etc…” A focus on the facts is much more useful than a subjective word, right?
Family-friendly: It almost sounds okay to say, “This is a family-friendly neighborhood” because our society is so used to language like that. But what about saying, “This is NOT a family-friendly neighborhood”? I think sometimes when we insert a negative it’s a clue there is room for better language that doesn’t leave certain groups out. Let’s be real. Families live in all sorts of neighborhoods, so being a so-called good or bad area for families is highly subjective. Ultimately if you say an area isn’t fit for families, you’re probably talking about your own family or belief system more than anything.
What to do instead: It’s important to take inventory of the words we use and how our lingo might be perceived. I suggest weeding out subjective language that might in any way show bias or discriminate. So take a list like the one above and monitor your language. Being familiar with the Fair Housing Act and figuring out fact-based ways to talk about value and neighborhoods is the goal as it focuses on respect and not being swayed by personal opinions or beliefs. When describing neighborhoods I would suggest sticking to facts such as architectural styles, types of units, proximity to conveniences, economic factors, condition of homes, and anything that would help sum up an area without imposing subjective words that show personal bias. Keep in mind I’m saying this as a non-lawyer, so this isn’t legal advice. Also, I’m not saying solely using the right words is the end-all solution for eliminating bias either.
I talked with a reporter last week about these words and he asked if I use these off-limits words in my appraisal reports. Heck no. I don’t know if he believed me or not, but words matter and I take that very seriously as an appraiser.
Anyway, that’s what’s on my mind. I hope it was helpful.
Questions: What do you think of the list above? Anything to add? Are there other phrases you’ve heard by the real estate community that you’d recommend weeding out? I’d love to hear your take.