Steering Real Estate

Steering in the real estate domain refers to the unethical and illegal practice where real estate agents influence or direct potential homebuyers towards or away from certain neighborhoods based on protected characteristics such as race, religion, or family status. This manipulation restricts buyers’ choices and perpetuates segregation, impacting the diversity and inclusivity of communities. It’s not just about limiting where someone can live; it fundamentally undermines the principle of equal opportunity in housing.

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 makes steering categorically illegal, positioning it as a form of discrimination that violates an individual’s rights to fair housing choices. The rationale behind the law’s strictness is clear: everyone deserves access to housing opportunities without bias, prejudice, or manipulation. Steering not only infringes on this right but also fosters a divided society, contributing to the perpetuation of stereotypes and societal inequalities.

For buyers, being aware of steering practices is crucial to making informed and autonomous decisions about where to live, ensuring they explore all options available to them without prejudice. Sellers, on the other hand, must understand the importance of offering their property to a diverse audience, thereby contributing to a more inclusive market. Ignorance of these practices can inadvertently support discriminatory behaviors and could lead to serious legal repercussions.

In summary, steering stands as a barrier to fair housing, equity, and community diversity. Both buyers and sellers, guided by real estate professionals, should strive for awareness and understanding of these practices to contribute to a more equitable and inclusive housing market. The fight against steering is not just about complying with the law; it’s about fostering a society where everyone has an equal shot at finding a home they love, in a community where they feel they belong.

What is Steering in Real Estate?

Steering in real estate encapsulates the discriminatory practice where real estate agents, knowingly or unknowingly, channel potential homebuyers toward or away from specific neighborhoods based on protected characteristics such as race, religion, family status, or national origin. This action not only narrows the spectrum of choices for the buyer but also perpetuates segregated living patterns, inadvertently sustaining socio-economic divides within communities. Steering can manifest in various subtle cues or overt suggestions by agents, ultimately influencing the buyer’s decision-making process in ways that may not align with their preferences or interests.

The Fair Housing Act, established in 1968, places strict legal boundaries against steering, highlighting it as a violation of an individual’s right to fair and equal housing opportunities. Under this act, steering is recognized as a form of discrimination that interferes with the core principle of fair access to housing regardless of one’s background or beliefs. Real estate professionals found guilty of steering face severe penalties, including fines, license revocation, and legal actions, which underscore the seriousness with which the law treats such discriminatory practices.

Examples of steering are varied and can often seem innocuous at first glance. An agent might suggest a neighborhood based on their assumptions about the buyer’s cultural or religious preferences, or they may avoid showing properties in certain areas, citing concerns about school quality or crime rates that are subtly tied to racial or ethnic demographics. Another common form of steering involves overemphasizing the desirability of certain neighborhoods to buyers of a particular demographic, thus narrowing their field of vision and choice. Each of these practices, whether carried out with intent or through unconscious bias, effectively steers buyers away from making fully informed and autonomous decisions about where they wish to live.

Understanding what constitutes steering and recognizing its legal and ethical implications is essential for all parties involved in the real estate transaction process. By fostering an environment of transparency and equal opportunity, real estate professionals, buyers, and sellers can collectively work towards eliminating discriminatory practices and promoting a more inclusive housing market.

How Steering Affects Homebuying and Selling

Steering profoundly impacts both homebuyers and sellers, reshaping the landscape of real estate transactions in ways that diminish fairness and inclusivity. For homebuyers, the consequences of steering are multifaceted and detrimental. Firstly, it severely limits their neighborhood options, confining their choices to areas that may not align with their desires or needs. This restriction not only affects their quality of life but also impedes their freedom to explore diverse communities. Moreover, steering can significantly influence property values. By funneling buyers of certain demographics into specific neighborhoods, it can artificially inflate or depress property values, affecting the economic diversity and stability of communities.

For sellers, the repercussions of steering are equally significant. One of the most immediate effects is a reduced buyer pool. When real estate agents steer potential buyers away from certain areas, sellers in those neighborhoods face a smaller audience for their properties. This limitation can prolong the selling process and even force sellers to accept lower offers than they might otherwise receive. Beyond the immediate financial impact, sellers also face potential legal repercussions. If found complicit in steering practices, whether knowingly or unknowingly, sellers could be subject to lawsuits, fines, and public censure, damaging their reputation and financial standing.

In summary, steering creates a ripple effect that extends beyond the initial act, affecting the economic and social fabric of neighborhoods, skewing property values, and limiting the opportunities for buyers and sellers alike. Recognizing and addressing these impacts is crucial for fostering a real estate market that champions equality, diversity, and fairness for all participants.

Recognizing Steering Practices

Recognizing steering practices is crucial for buyers, sellers, and real estate agents alike, ensuring the real estate market remains fair and equitable. As a buyer, it’s important to be vigilant for common signs of steering. These include agents who only show properties in certain neighborhoods despite your broader criteria or those who make unsolicited comments about the demographic makeup of neighborhoods. An agent dissuading you from exploring certain areas based on subjective criteria like “fit” or “feel” can also be a red flag. Additionally, if you notice a pattern where the agent is highlighting or downplaying certain community features disproportionately, it might be steering.

Sellers, often unknowingly, can contribute to steering by accepting or encouraging agents’ suggestions to target or exclude certain demographics. This could happen through marketing materials that appeal to specific groups or by agreeing to showings selectively based on prospective buyers’ backgrounds. Sellers should ensure their property is marketed broadly and inclusively, emphasizing features of the home and community without implying a preferred type of buyer.

Real estate agents play a pivotal role in preventing steering by adhering strictly to professional ethics and legal standards. This responsibility involves providing all clients with equal access to all available properties that meet their specified criteria, regardless of the neighborhood’s demographic composition. Agents should educate themselves continuously on the nuances of fair housing laws and remain vigilant against unconscious biases that might influence their guidance. Additionally, agents can serve as advocates for fairness by encouraging sellers to market their homes inclusively and by educating them about the legal and ethical implications of steering.

By staying informed, questioning assumptions, and advocating for fairness, buyers, sellers, and agents can work together to combat steering and promote a real estate market that is accessible and equitable for everyone.

Avoiding and Reporting Steering

In the landscape of real estate transactions, both buyers and sellers play pivotal roles in circumventing steering practices. Awareness and proactive measures can significantly reduce the occurrence of steering, promoting a more inclusive and fair housing market. Here’s how both parties can avoid being involved in steering and contribute to its eradication, along with guidance on reporting such activities.

Tips for Buyers to Avoid Being Steered

  1. Educate Yourself: Familiarize yourself with the Fair Housing Act and understand your rights as a homebuyer. Knowledge empowers you to recognize when you might be steered.
  2. Define Your Criteria Clearly: Communicate your housing preferences explicitly, focusing on tangible attributes like house size, price range, and specific amenities. Avoid discussing demographic characteristics of neighborhoods.
  3. Research Independently: While your agent’s insights can be valuable, conduct your own research on various neighborhoods. Utilize online resources, visit areas personally, and engage with local community groups to gather diverse perspectives.
  4. Question Broad Statements: If an agent makes generalized comments about areas being “good” or “bad” without providing specific, objective data, ask for clarification or evidence supporting these claims.

Advice for Sellers on Ensuring Their Listing Reaches a Diverse Audience

  1. Choose an Ethical Agent: Work with real estate agents who demonstrate a commitment to fair housing principles and have a track record of marketing properties to diverse buyers.
  2. Market Widely: Ensure your listing is advertised on multiple platforms, reaching audiences from various backgrounds. Consider marketing in different languages or on platforms popular with diverse communities.
  3. Highlight Universal Features: Focus on the features of your property and community amenities that appeal universally, rather than targeting a specific demographic group.

How to Report Suspected Steering Activities

  1. Document Your Experience: Keep detailed records of your interactions with real estate professionals, including emails, texts, and notes from conversations where you felt steered.
  2. Contact HUD: File a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) if you believe you’ve experienced steering. HUD investigates fair housing complaints and can take action against violators.
  3. Reach Out to Local Fair Housing Organizations: Many cities and states have organizations dedicated to combating housing discrimination. These groups can offer guidance, support, and sometimes legal assistance in reporting steering.

The Role of Regulatory Bodies in Combating Steering

Regulatory bodies, including HUD, state licensing boards, and professional realtor associations, play crucial roles in fighting steering. They establish and enforce fair housing laws, conduct audits and investigations into reported violations, and provide education and resources for real estate professionals. These organizations also develop policies and practices aimed at promoting diversity and inclusion within communities, ensuring that all individuals have equal access to housing opportunities regardless of their background.

By staying informed, questioning assumptions, and leveraging available resources, buyers and sellers can help combat steering and foster a more equitable housing market. Reporting suspected steering practices not only helps individuals affected but also contributes to broader efforts to eradicate discrimination in real estate.

Best Practices for Real Estate Professionals

Real estate professionals hold the key to cultivating a fair and inclusive housing market. Their adherence to best practices not only ensures compliance with the Fair Housing Act but also fosters trust and integrity in the real estate industry. Here are some pivotal strategies for real estate agents and agencies to embody and promote fairness in all their transactions.

Educating Agents on the Fair Housing Act

  • Conduct Regular Training Sessions: Agencies should host frequent training workshops emphasizing the importance of the Fair Housing Act. These sessions should cover not only the legal aspects but also the ethical implications of fair housing practices.
  • Incorporate Fair Housing into Onboarding: New agent orientation programs must include a comprehensive introduction to fair housing laws, ensuring that from day one, agents understand their responsibilities.
  • Utilize Real-World Scenarios: Training should involve case studies and scenarios that agents might encounter, offering practical strategies to handle situations without violating fair housing principles.

Encouraging Transparency and Objectivity in Neighborhood Information

  • Standardize Information Sharing: Develop and implement a standard procedure for sharing neighborhood information that focuses on objective data such as amenities, schools, and public transport, avoiding subjective opinions that could influence buyer decisions.
  • Promote Use of Third-Party Resources: Encourage agents to direct clients to independent resources for crime statistics, school ratings, and community demographics, ensuring that the information is unbiased and comprehensive.
  • Create Informative Material: Produce guides or digital content that provide clients with a clear understanding of how to assess neighborhoods based on their needs and preferences, emphasizing the importance of personal research.

Developing Policies that Promote Equal Access to Housing

  • Implement a Zero-Tolerance Policy: Establish clear policies against discriminatory practices within your agency. Make it known that any violation of fair housing laws will result in disciplinary action, including possible termination.
  • Monitor Client-Agent Interactions: Utilize client feedback forms and follow-up surveys to monitor agent behavior and client satisfaction, identifying potential areas of concern regarding fair housing practices.
  • Foster an Inclusive Culture: Encourage an agency-wide culture that values diversity and inclusion, not just in dealings with clients but also in hiring practices and internal promotions. Celebrate multicultural events and acknowledge the diverse backgrounds of team members and clients alike.

By embracing these best practices, real estate professionals can ensure they serve their clients with integrity and respect, upholding the spirit of the Fair Housing Act. Educating agents, encouraging transparency, and developing inclusive policies not only mitigate the risk of steering but also contribute to building a more equitable society. Real estate professionals have the opportunity and responsibility to lead by example, demonstrating that equal access to housing is not just a legal requirement but a moral imperative.

The Broader Impact of Steering on Communities

Steering, a discriminatory practice within the real estate industry, significantly undermines the diversity and inclusivity of communities, echoing far beyond individual transactions to shape the societal landscape. Its role in perpetuating segregation and the long-term effects on neighborhood diversity highlight the critical importance of advocating for fair housing in community development.

The Role of Steering in Perpetuating Segregation

Steering covertly directs potential homebuyers towards or away from specific neighborhoods based on protected characteristics, reinforcing and perpetuating existing patterns of segregation. By limiting the housing options available to individuals based on race, religion, or other protected statuses, steering not only violates the Fair Housing Act but also cements the socio-economic divides between communities. This practice discourages the natural integration of neighborhoods, maintaining invisible barriers that segregate communities along racial and economic lines.

Long-term Effects on Neighborhood Diversity and Inclusivity

The impact of steering extends far beyond the initial act, having profound long-term effects on the diversity and inclusivity of neighborhoods. Areas subject to steering often suffer from reduced diversity, which can lead to a lack of cultural exchange and understanding among residents. This homogeneity can stifle community growth, innovation, and resilience, making neighborhoods less vibrant and less adaptive to change. Furthermore, steering contributes to economic disparities within and between communities, as it influences property values and investment opportunities, often leading to underinvestment in diverse or marginalized areas.

The Importance of Fair Housing for Community Development

Fair housing stands as a cornerstone for equitable community development, ensuring that all individuals have the opportunity to live in a community of their choice, regardless of their background. Promoting fair housing practices enriches communities by fostering diversity, which is a key driver of social cohesion, economic growth, and cultural vitality. Diverse communities benefit from a broader range of perspectives, experiences, and skills among their residents, enhancing problem-solving capabilities and fostering innovation.

The commitment to fair housing also signals a commitment to social justice and equity, values that are fundamental to the well-being and prosperity of any society. By actively combating steering and other discriminatory practices, real estate professionals, policymakers, and community leaders can work together to build more inclusive, vibrant, and resilient communities. In doing so, they not only comply with legal obligations but also contribute to the creation of a more just and equitable society.

In conclusion, the broader impact of steering on communities underscores the urgency and importance of vigorous enforcement of fair housing laws and the active promotion of diversity and inclusivity in all neighborhoods. The pursuit of fair housing is not only a legal requirement but a moral imperative that benefits everyone by creating more cohesive, dynamic, and equitable communities.


Understanding and combating steering within the real estate market is paramount to fostering an environment of equality, diversity, and inclusivity. Steering, as a form of housing discrimination, not only infringes upon the rights of individuals to make free and informed choices about their living arrangements but also perpetuates societal divisions and hinders the growth of vibrant, diverse communities.

The responsibility to eradicate steering lies not with a single group but is a collective charge shared among buyers, sellers, and real estate professionals. Buyers should arm themselves with knowledge and awareness, remaining vigilant against subtle cues of steering and advocating for their right to explore all housing options. Sellers must recognize the importance of reaching a diverse audience, understanding that inclusivity enriches the community and enhances the value of their property. Real estate professionals, bound by both legal and ethical obligations, must lead this charge, ensuring their practices reflect the principles of fairness and equality as outlined in the Fair Housing Act.

This call to action for a more inclusive and fair housing market is not just about compliance with the law; it is about building a foundation for a society that values and celebrates diversity. By actively rejecting steering and embracing fair housing practices, we can move towards a future where everyone has the opportunity to live in a community of their choice, free from discrimination.

Let us unite in this endeavor, fostering a real estate market that not only meets the letter of the law but also embodies the spirit of inclusivity and fairness. Together, we can pave the way for a brighter, more equitable future in housing, where diversity is not just tolerated but cherished as a source of strength and vitality for our communities.