When I go to parties, conferences, or networking events, people frequently ask about my ethnic background.
People use this question as an icebreaker, just like “How’s the weather?” or “How was traffic?”
Me: “Hi, My name is Paula.”
Them: “Hi Paula! Are you Indian?”
(They usually follow with: “I love Indian food!”)
Of course, it doesn’t always happen this way. Sometimes people phrase the question indirectly.
Them: “Where’s your family from?”
Them: “I mean, where did they come from originally?”
Me: “Um, Pittsburgh?”
On occasion, people will wait for me to raise the name of a country before they pop the question.
Me: “This one time, I was vacationing in Egypt …”
Them: “Oh, is that where you’re from?”
You’re probably wondering where this is going. Did you accidentally stumble upon the wrong website? Isn’t this supposed to be about real estate?
You see, there are some questions that sound common to our ears. They’re the questions that we use in normal daily conversations.
• “Are you married?”
• “Do you have any kids?”
• “Are you from (insert country here)?”
These sound like incredibly normal questions, ones that I’ve heard throughout my life. I’m used to hearing these questions frequently in social situations. There’s nothing unusual about it.
But if you’re in real estate, beware.
Just because a question sounds “normal” or “conversational” doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily allowed to ask it.
When you’re talking to tenants or buyers, you shouldn’t ask them about their race, their skin color, their religion, their sex or gender, their nationality, their marital status or anything else that may potentially be interpreted as a violation of Fair Housing Laws.
“Whoa, whoa, violation?! I was just making friendly conversation!”
I understand: You have great intentions.
You may be searching for an icebreaker, so that you can jump-start a conversation. Or you may genuinely be curious about someone, and you want to learn more about that person in order to connect with them at a deeper level.
That’s awesome. I get it.
But in order to protect yourself from any potential legal problems down the road, you should refrain from expressing any curiosity or interest about the person’s background, national origin, race, religion or any other factors covered by Fair Housing.
In the real estate world, you have to operate under a new set of social rules. Questions that you might ask someone at a friend’s backyard BBQ aren’t permitted when you’re speaking to prospective tenants or buyers.
Regardless of your natural curiosity, that question – “Are you from (insert country here)?” – needs to be the elephant in the room.
(P.S. And by the way, the answer is “Nepalese.” Thanks for asking.)