A Visit to the Mythical Fairhaven

Looking at fair housing through a different lens

 Debbi Conrad  |    January 28, 2021

Fair housing is much more than a collection of legal jargon and detailed regulations. It is the belief that all people should have the right to choose where they live free from unlawful discrimination. The trusted role of the real estate professional is to treat everyone fairly and equally and listen to the wishes of the buyers. Equal service benefits us all. These are some of the lessons REALTORS¬ģ can learn as they journey through Fairhaven, a new fair housing simulation from the National Association of REALTORS¬ģ (NAR).

Real estate professionals assist their clients and customers to find the community and neighborhood where they would like to live. The job is not to find them a home where real estate licensees think they should live or will be happiest. That is when agents get themselves into trouble, particularly when they allow biases against consumers of color or buyers in the other groups protected by fair housing law to influence housing services. That is illegal steering when different people are treated differently on the basis of their race or other protected class attribute. And it is not fair and equal treatment.

A different perspective

Perhaps real estate professionals would be more understanding of the essential principles behind fair housing and be able to empathize with different buyers and renters if they stepped into the shoes of the parties and got a glimpse of the world from their vantage point. That is one of the features of Fairhaven.

You enter Fairhaven as a real estate agent. Your challenge is to close four transactions, a mission any red-blooded real estate agent certainly can relate to. But the closing of these transactions does not occur in a traditional sense and it seems to sneak up on you based on the choices you are making along the way. In the role of a real estate agent, you are faced with choices to make to address the fair housing issues arising as you work with different parties. But perhaps more important are the other lessons embedded in your journey through Fairhaven.

Take a trip to fairhaven

You can find the mythical town of Fairhaven online at fairhaven.realtor and may enter the fair housing simulation with your NAR login or membership (NRDS) number. Once you arrive, you will meet various buyers, sellers and real estate agents and learn about the characteristics of the different neighborhoods and properties available in this fictional community. Fairhaven invites you to open your mind and put on your thinking cap.

Real estate role

Your journey in Fairhaven begins as a real estate agent. We don’t want to give away the details or give any spoilers, so just know you will encounter numerous forks in the road as you work with various parties. 

Some choices take you down the path toward discrimination and illustrate the risks and negative outcomes. Sometimes the discrimination is subtle, and sometimes it is overt. Be sure to explore and see what the outcome is for each possible choice as the way to go is not always obvious or easy. In some cases, there does not seem to be a clear choice or a selection that is right or wrong, so it is worthwhile to explore the options and see where the program goes in each instance.

Your experiences in Fairhaven encompass a rich array of transactional moments, personalities and properties. You gain insight into the emotions involved when a buyer is improperly rejected. Your experiences and lessons will run the gamut across various fair housing categories. You will be placed in situations where there are issues of race, accessibility, disability, illegal steering, gender identity, language barriers, reasonable accommodations and a whole host of fair housing problems. You are given a sense of what the choices might be in similar scenarios, can feel a bit of the frustration when there is no clear solution, and see some of these situations from the perspective of the buyer or seller.

Under the ‚Äúlaws‚ÄĚ of Fairhaven, certain choices will lead to closed transactions, which is the given goal in the program: close four transactions. Certain choices are rewarded that may¬†not seem to be what Wisconsin licensees would be likely to do, but take it all with a grain of salt, and remember you are in Fairhaven and not Wisconsin!

There are some instances in which the real estate agents in Fairhaven are more assertive and take on roles a Wisconsin licensee may be more likely to leave to the party’s attorney. Either way, the message in these cases is to stand up and make sure the party’s fair housing rights are asserted rather than walking away or choosing a passive alternative. Fairhaven buyers and sellers will clearly be more successful in their transactions when fair housing laws are observed, and that would be the case in Wisconsin as well. Inclusive business practices prove to be beneficial for all.

What the buyer feels

The Fairhaven platform strives to engage your empathy when you are suddenly switched from the role of the real estate agent to a buyer or seller. You suddenly become the client and face discrimination. These real-life scenarios provide a personal sense and appreciation of how discrimination in housing impacts real people.

Video vibrancy

Throughout the Fairhaven journey, you are given the opportunity to watch video clips from NAR‚Äôs video, ‚ÄúA Matter of Place,‚ÄĚ as well as the Newsday documentary, ‚ÄúTesting the Divide.‚ÄĚ These are well worth watching as these real-life portrayals are vivid and bring clarity to the impact of fair housing discrimination on real people‚Äôs lives.

Fairhaven will give you a different appreciation of fair housing issues and the impact of discrimination than you gather from traditional fair housing coursework. The simulations are engaging and force you to think. Your trip to Fairhaven will be rewarding and well worth the excursion.

Debbi Conrad is Senior Attorney and Director of Legal Affairs for the WRA.

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