Is Fair Housing Really Fair?
First, I want to start out this week's newsletter by thanking the families who showed up last week to meet new friends and fellowship with one another. More than 250 of you RSVP'd you'd be attending and with the addition of Movie Night in the Park, coupled with a perfect fall evening, we had a FANTASTIC turnout for "Newcomers Night" at the Community Center.
Along with ginormous charcuterie boards and sparkling water, the soft ice cream (with sprinkles) flowed nonstop until after 8:00pm, and there wasn't a leftover cracker or slice of cheese to be had (much to my son's dismay). All in all, it was a resounding success, thanks to the good intentions and efforts of more than a few caring folks, AND Sarah and I were pleased to underwrite this first-time ever "Newcomers Night." All in favor of making this an annual event, say "frosty please!" (We're game if you are.)
Not for nothing, but living in a small-town community has its pluses, and such fairly impromptu gatherings are one of them. With a new school year upon us (and most of Covid behind us), let's get back to focusing on those qualities that make this town truly special: excellent schools, a plethora of after-school programs, a new swim facility on the horizon, clean water, manicured parks, public tennis courts, citizens who genuinely care, dedicated teachers, librarians, school nurses and support staff, civic-minded leaders, volunteer coaches, crossing guards, police and fire persons at the ready, and a sense of shared values. Whether you agree or disagree with the town's goals, it's still an absolutely beautiful and genuinely safe place in which to hang one's hat.
While Piedmont works its way towards greater diversity, increased inclusion, and more affordable housing ("affordable" being a relative term in a town where the average selling price is a whopping $2,800,000), it was encouraging to see so many families of all stripes and persuasions last Friday evening. Sure, we have a long way to go, but judging by what I can only hope is a truer cross-section of Piedmont's changing population, we're definitely on the right track.
Second, with respect to the hot topic of "Inclusion," fair-housing rules have received a lot of attention in the news lately and frankly, they should. Racism, segregation, redlining, and blatantly prejudicial HOAs (Homeowners' Associations) have been widespread systemic problems, and grossly unfair to so many underrepresented and underserved segments of our population. The sooner we do away with such egregious practices, the better.
In that vein, most progressive Agents/Brokerages have eliminated the policy of "love letters" and photographs to avoid creating biases in the transaction. In short, a blind selection is an overdue nod towards "fair housing." But is "fair housing" really fair? (No, it's not.)
Sellers still want to know who is buying their house, and often they desire a family that reminds them of their own. (Remember, selling a family home is an EMOTIONAL transaction first and foremost). Vetting a Buyer isn't technically illegal, but passing over the better offer to sell to someone else based on a personal bias may be. This is tricky territory so don't do it.
But here's the BIG improvement . . . transacting a sale online DOES create a barrier when it comes to unconscious bias. When forced to choose between several offers presented in an Excel spreadsheet via Zoom, there's less opportunity to "hand select" someone based on their characteristics - other than their ability to qualify.
Two decades ago, when I began my career in real estate, presentations took place in a room with the Seller and the Seller's Agent face-to-face. Not surprisingly, a fair amount of time was spent describing the Buyers, while simultaneously trying to create familiar connections that might provide an edge. Whether that "connection" was an ivy-league alma mater, a mutual friend, or a shared culture, picking people who "looked like you" was frequently the end goal, even if unintended. (Ducks choose ducks.)
With the advent of Docusign (followed by Covid), I'm happy to report that's rarely the case any longer.
Today, ALL offers are submitted on a certain date at a specific time and then compiled and sent to the Sellers. Any notes an Agent might have regarding an offer in question frequently revolve around the loan or other outstanding terms. (Experienced Agents understand that the "terms" are often more important than the offer price.) Because the transaction is now conducted at arm's length, it's typically the strongest offer that succeeds. Color, creed, religion, age, gender, or sexual orientation are usually no longer a part of the conversation (nor should they be).
Having said all that, will Piedmont get to a place of "more affordable" housing? Not quickly. What's been knitted in for generations is going to take much longer to unravel.
In the meantime, higher interest rates are certainly softening the marketplace, resulting in lower selling prices. With unwelcome news of continued interest rate hikes from the FEDS, we should expect home prices to correct further still (2023 is likely to look very different than 2022), AND as money will be more expensive to borrow, that's unlikely to make housing "more affordable." In fact, it's likely to do exactly the opposite. Sadly, there's nothing inherently fair about housing, especially here in the Bay Area which is arguably among the most expensive real estate to own in the U.S. (There are nations where basic housing is a right. This seems to me a government issue.)
So while we wait for the market to adjust and settle in, let's continue to reach out to our neighbors with a warm welcome and a hearty greeting that says "everyone is welcome here." Frankly, isn't it great to see people's smiles once again - no matter who they are, who their families are, or where they came from? (Yes, it is.)
Ice cream anyone?
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Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 18 years and has published more than 670 essays on life and real estate.