As a real estate agent, you deal with different types of people every day. In fact, being able to communicate with a myriad of people is one of the true strengths of a successful real estate agent. But what should you do when dealing with clients with physical disabilities to make sure you don’t end up facing a lawsuit?
The Americans With Disabilities Act, 1990 defines “disability” as when a person has a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of his/her major life activities”. According to the 2016 Disability Statistics Annual Report by the University of New Hampshire, the percentage of people with disabilities in the United States in 2015 was 12.6%, which is an increase from 11.9% in 2010.
In your role as a real estate agent, you’ll need to consider physical hazards and access issues for people with a disability when you’re running open homes. It’s also important to ensure you are non-discriminatory, so as not to offend a client and/or inadvertently contravene anti-discrimination laws.
In this post, we explore how you can deal with clients with physical disabilities in a respectful and thoughtful manner, to maintain great relationships and protect both your clients and yourself from any potential risks. People with disabilities are no strangers to overcoming obstacles in life. As a real estate agent, you have an opportunity to have a significant and positive impact on their life — by helping them find a property to live in and enjoy for years to come.
Dealing with Physical Hazards
Whether a home poses any physical hazards to your client will depend on the exact nature and extent of their disabilities. Sometimes real estate agents, and people in general, tend to think of people with a disability as those using a wheelchair. But this is not always the case. It’s important to listen to your client’s needs and help them to find something that suits their unique circumstances.
For some clients, steps to the home or staircases inside will be a deal breaker. Likewise, steep driveways may be an issue for some people with a disability. However, some clients may have a budget to do extensive modifications to the home to bring it up to a standard which is usable for them.
As an agent, you should be upfront about any potential physical hazards before you show the property. You don’t want to find yourself in a sticky situation if a disabled client is injured during the home showing. It’s up to you to simply provide information to your clients so they can make their own informed decisions.
In most cases, the Americans With Disabilities Act 1990 does not apply to regular residential housing, with the exception of rental office spaces and common-use areas of housing developments. Depending on the nature of your client’s disability, access to the property — and within the property- – may be an issue.
Before showing a disabled client a property, consider the following in the context of your client’s needs:
- The property’s floor plans (for example, tight corners or narrow hallways may not be suitable for people in a wheelchair)
- Size and accessibility of doorways
- Access to and size of bathrooms
- Steps or ramps to the property
- Are handrails available? Or could these be easily installed?
- Are rugs or mats inside the home likely to cause an issue when you show the home to a disabled client?
- Is parking available close to the entrance of the property?
Use Non-discriminatory Language
There are no official regulations concerning how real estate agents should deal with people with special needs in real estate specifically. However, the Americans With Disabilities Act 1990, which is a a civil rights bill, covers all industries and prohibits discrimination of people with disabilities.
When dealing with clients with a physical disability, remember that language is important. The way you refer to people not only affects how they see themselves, but how others also see them. Failure to comply with anti-discrimination laws can also see you facing a lawsuit for discrimination.
Avoid stereotypes, as every person with a disability is an individual. And, never make assumptions. For example, you may think a ground floor unit would be better suited to a disabled person than a second floor unit, but remember it is not your place to say that. Provide information to your disabled clients, as you would any other clients, so they can decide on a property that they believe will best suit their needs.
What If Something Goes Wrong?
Adequate Real Estate Errors and Omissions insurance protection is a must. You need this to ensure you’re protected in case you face a situation where something does go wrong with a client with a disability.
CRES Real Estate E&O Policies include coverage for open houses and showings, which covers you if a visitor gets injured or the property is damaged during an open house or other selling activity. This is not something you’ll commonly find with many E&O Policies from other companies.
With CRES E&O + ClaimPrevent®, you’ll also have access to a Legal Advice Hotline available 7 days a week, to tackle issues before they become lawsuits.
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