Here’s What It Actually Looks Like to Support Queer Buyers and Renters in the Housing Market

published Aug 23, 2020
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A lesbian couple with a new child has to move because their neighbor keeps asking them “Where [they] got that baby.” A trans person needs to find a new apartment because their landlord won’t stop addressing them by the wrong name and pronouns. A gay couple shares that they hope to start a family, and suddenly aren’t considered qualified to purchase their dream home. 

For Jamie Zapata, a realtor with Coldwell Banker in San Antonio, Texas, these anecdotes are a dime a dozen. And though buying a home—or finding the perfect apartment—in the middle of a pandemic is undeniably difficult, the obstacles confronting LGBTQ buyers and renters clearly make the entire process that much more challenging. 

“It’s gotten better and open-minded people are everywhere, but I’ve had clients who have been assaulted on their own street for holding hands,” she says. “So people are cautious about where they’re going to live, and the main question I always get is, ‘Is this neighborhood LGBTQ-friendly?’ because they want to feel safe.”

So, how can realtors be better equipped to serve their LGBTQ clients? If safety is the number-one priority for prospective buyers and renters in the queer community, then being familiar with your local laws and protections is crucial. Right now, only 17 states have statewide protections in place, and there is no federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual preference or gender identity when it comes to housing. That makes virtually any foray into real estate stressful, and clients need to be able to rely on their realtors for guidance about where to move.

“The biggest problem right now is exactly that: I just don’t think LGBTQ people feel safe,” says RE/MAX agent Samuel Olson. “There’s a lot of financial and legal protection worry; on top of that, LGBTQ people are more likely to experience lower incomes than heterosexual people. So it’s just this broad systemic issue that really goes beyond real estate.”

According to a new Zillow report, LGBTQ folks are making sacrifices, like settling for a smaller place or a place in worse condition than they’d like, in order to rent and purchase homes more frequently than their heterosexual counterparts. They’re also more likely to get denied for a mortgage loan, and more likely to experience a rent increase. Then again, these are just statistics; you’ll never be able predict what obstacles your client will face when they start their search, and you shouldn’t make any speculations about what they do (or don’t!) want in their next home. 

“Never assume anything!” says Zapata. “Let your clients know that their information is going to be confidential and that they’re welcome to open up about anything that they need or that they’re looking for. Whether it’s a million dollar buyer or a $100,000 buyer, treat everyone the same, and make them feel welcome.”

For Zapata, a big part of making folks feel welcome is being incredibly transparent about her own role in the LGBTQ community; that way, everything is on the table from the get-go. 

“I pretty much advertise everywhere that I’m an LGBTQ activist, that I am a trans woman, that I do community service—so I just make it really clear,” Zapata says. “I want people to know that I serve all people, and that helps make clients feel comfortable. They just want to feel like they can open up without being judged. It’s a fear, even if it’s unfounded, of how they’re going to be treated. And it’s because of these experiences that we’ve had in our lives that we’re led to feel like we just can’t trust anyone.”

Building an inclusive environment may start with the real estate office, but it doesn’t end there; getting involved in local activism like Zapata, or simply being vocal about your support for the LGBTQ community, can sometimes make all the difference. 

“Real support actually means a lot,” Olson says. “Even if it’s just a rainbow photo on your Facebook for a month, that’s ok, because that’s what’s helping the next generation feel OK about coming out. We’re creating a culture of acceptance bit by bit by bit. It’s a great start.”