One can and should apply the Equal Professional Service (EPS) model to all areas of marketing housing. A sales associate can drastically reduce the chances of facing defenseless fair housing violations charges by employing a consistent approach to greeting people, showing homes, qualifying prospects, obtaining listings, conducting open houses, keeping records, and following up with clients and customers.
When sales associates follow EPS models, their professionalism level tends to increase, their client base expands, they receive more referrals, and they avoid fair housing claims; it is a win-win option. The EPS model is not intended to replace a person's particular style but to provide a structure to complement one's procedures and technique.
As the model illustrates, whenever a question receives an answer of "no," the process returns to step one. By following the model's steps, one is forced to apply each step in succession, thus building and incorporating practices and procedures that provide equal professional service to everyone.
- Systematic Procedures. Equal Professional Service means consistently providing the same level of service to all clients and customers. After developing a consistent approach to greeting people, qualifying buyers, showing homes, getting listings, conducting open houses, keeping records, and following up with clients and customers, a sales associates find that fair housing practices come naturally.
Using forms and checklists as well as asking standard questions of all prospects is an advisable approach to gathering data. When filling out the same forms for each prospect, the goal of equal treatment for all is more likely to be realized. Likewise, using the same form promotes a better understanding of the sales associate's role regarding fair housing and builds dialogue within those areas.
EPS forms have many names, such as a Prospect Information Checklist or a Prospect Equal Service Report. As well, brokers may provide these forms. One good practice involves filling out such a report upon contact with a new prospect. Then, update the form after every communication – email, fax, phone, face-to-face – with the prospect. If called into question, a well-documented file serves both the sales associate and the broker.
- Obtaining and Using Objective Information. The requirement of objectivity applies both to the information provided to prospects and the information collected from them. When providing information that is free of assumptions and biases and asking for information that does not impose assumptions and biases, one can learn much more about a prospect's needs and wants. When actively and objectively listening to the opinions of a prospect, it is more likely that the prospect will convey personal limits and priorities. It is not the salesperson's job to make choices for prospects but rather to provide prospects with choices.
- Letting the Customer Set the Limits. Prospects are satisfied when they find what most closely meets their needs and desires, not what aligns with a salesperson's assumptions. There are specific questions you can ask to make sure that the prospect sets the limits of a home search:
- Did the customer identify the necessary and desired features of the home?
- Did the customer indicate the spending limit?
- Did the customer know about meeting the financial qualifications to purchase?
- Did the customer express a preference for one or more communities?
- Did the customer express a lack of preference for one or more communities?
- Did the customer express a preference for any particular type of financing?
- Did you ask the customer for all the information necessary to search for a home?
- Offering a Variety of Choices. Providing a variety of choices based on a customer’s objective information is good business. People presented with a wide variety of choices are the most satisfied with their selections and with their real estate professionals.
The fair housing laws protect all of us from discrimination by ensuring that buyers, sellers, property owners, and renters, as well as the real estate professionals who serve them, have full access to housing markets, with no discriminatory barriers.
Thus, customers can expect that all housing in their price range is made available:
- At the most favorable terms and conditions for that housing.
- In all communities and locations where that housing exists.
- With complete access to all forms of housing financing and insurance.
- With consistent professional service.
Steering is a term used to describe the thoughts and actions that occur when an agent makes choices or assumptions for a buyer because of the buyer's race, color, religion, national origin, disability, or familial status; the agent attempts to guide or "steer" the buyer in a particular direction. For example, the agent may "decide" to show homes in specific neighborhoods where the race or ethnicity matches the race or ethnicity of the buyer. Or, when the agent “chooses” to steer the buyer away from cities or school districts with differing racial or socioeconomic composition.
Agents use different approaches to engage in unlawful steering, such as:
- Recommending homes to clients for consideration.
- Editorializing about areas the client should or should not consider.
Often, the agent makes these types of decisions based on personal prejudices or biases about the buyer. Under the Fair Housing Act, as amended in 1974, 1988, and 1995, steering is an illegal activity.
Steering takes place when agents make locational choices for a buyer based on:
- The race, color, national origin, religion, familial status, sex, or handicap of the buyer.
- Changes in the composition of the community.
Agents can avoid steering by allowing their clients and customers, rather than themselves, to set the limits of a home search.