Note: This article includes personal experiences and examples. Remember to consult local, state and national laws and your legal team before implementing new techniques to train your team members.
In 2020 I was working in onsite property management. I had the best team of leasing agents anyone could ask for. They were hungry, driven college students who were (mostly) incredibly intelligent. As part of their onboarding training as leasing agents, they were required to take a pretty standard fair housing course.
One particular morning I was walking across the sales floor to go on a property walk, and as I walked past the desk of one of my newest team members, to my horror, I heard:
“Oh! You’re pregnant? That shouldn’t be a problem!”
*insert record scratch*
Without a second thought, I jumped in and asked them to meet me in my office. We reflected on the call and went over a few ways they could handle a similar situation in the future and why what was said (although innocent on its face) could be very problematic.
After our coaching chat, I took a moment to reflect on how I had trained this new team member. After all, this wasn’t their fault; they clearly didn’t mean to potentially violate Fair Housing. Upon reflection, I realized that I had made a critical coaching mistake. I relied on a video that is consistently (no matter where you take it) one of the driest, most monotonous, brain-numbing videos in existence.
Even worse? I never took the time to explain the importance behind all of it. Luckily, the entire time I was at that property, we never had a fair housing complaint, but I knew there was more that I could do as a leader to be even more proactive.
After that call, I made the following changes. Here are the dos and don’ts of effective fair housing training:
Do give specific examples of common fair housing mistakes.
When we hear “fair housing violation,” most of our heads run to things like race and religion. These are the blatant violations that are demonstrated in those boring training videos. The ones where the horrendous landlord says something like, “We don’t rent to [insert race or religion],” and then the “knowledge check” question is, “Did this horrible man violate Fair Housing?”
In reality, some common questions that can lead to violations are:
- Is this a safe neighborhood?
- Is this a family-friendly neighborhood?
- What are the people like here?
- How would you describe the people that live in this neighborhood?
Most videos don’t prepare you for questions like that. In many cases, these don’t even seem to be fair housing-related. Take the time to review the less-obvious questions around fair housing and empower your team to answer them thoughtfully and in an informed way.
Do explain the importance of getting fair housing right.
Fair housing laws exist for a reason. They protect classes that have historically been disadvantaged and discriminated against. Unfortunately, we still live in a world where this is all too real.
Of course, there are monetary and reputation-related consequences for violating fair housing regulations. Still, more importantly, we have to do everything we can as real estate professionals to level the playing field.
Be sure to clearly communicate why knowing and following fair housing is so critical with your team members. Be sure that you explain the “why” behind following fair housing instead of just saying “it’s something you have to do.” Leaders often leave out the why because it’s easier than just giving an order.
I know a lot of people shy away from roleplay, but remember: This is your business-and a Fair Housing Claim is a huge deal. These “dos” are great, but they’re useless if you don’t actually practice them.
If there’s a team member that you are specifically worried about, don’t be afraid to “secret shop” them. Call your office as a prospect and hit them with a few of the aforementioned common questions. Afterward, take some time to sit down with them and go over where they excelled and what some areas of opportunity are.
Make sure while doing these exercises that you give them quick answers to those common questions. If someone asks about the “safety” of a neighborhood, there should be a quick, clean answer that your team member can memorize.
Don’t assume that one or two video tutorials ensure your team member is trained.
Guilty. As. Charged. When a new team member starts, the overwhelming majority of people will “onboard” them by sitting them in a quiet room and telling them to watch a few videos so they can check off a box.
After your team member has watched their video (or even gone to a training), don’t assume that they’re “fully trained” because they have a PDF with their name on it made with Photoshop. Spend time talking about the nuances of fair housing regulations and what it looks like in the real world instead of a video.
Don’t drop the conversation.
Fair Housing should be a constant conversation. Once a week, pull recent articles, whether they’re local or national ones, that highlight fair housing violations. Use this as an opportunity to highlight the severity of the consequences and as a chance to have a “what would you have done differently” conversation. Never keep Fair Housing as a once-a-year conversation.
Don’t assume everyone understands the way that you do.
If you’ve been in the game a while, don’t assume that everyone in your office “gets” Fair Housing the way you do. Not many people realize that saying “you bet this is a safe neighborhood!” is a violation of Fair Housing, but those who have had some good training and mentors know immediately how to answer that question.
Consistently assume your new team members are starting at zero, no matter their level of experience. As a team lead, it is your responsibility to ensure they’re trained to your standards.
“But, I’m busy!” you’re saying.
“I don’t have time to do all this!” you think as you roll your eyes.
“But, they only need to do the video to get the certification…” you scream from the rooftop.
I get it. I understand that that’s usually the knee-jerk reaction. However, any time you spend preparing your teams to handle these questions will save you time, money and reputation in the long run.