Testing Yourself for Hidden Biases in an Age of Housing Inequality

This month, the National Association of Realtors released a 53-minute training video centered around addressing and overcoming hidden biases in the real estate industry. With a tenet of our mission statement being to “grow our student’s knowledge base,” we’re encouraging real estate professionals in Michigan and all over the country to learn about and assess themselves for hidden biases.

A hidden (or implicit) bias is when our brains automatically (and often unconsciously) associate stereotypes with particular groups of people - which can cause us to treat those people differently. Before you watch the training video, try taking an Implicit Bias test to learn what your unconscious attitudes are. Considering your own hidden biases is an uncomfortable process, but a necessary one. Research shows that “despite people’s best intentions and conscious awareness, some biases can persist.”

Some examples of hidden bias statements gathered from real estate agents are:

  • “I am going to show you some homes in ‘your kind of neighborhood.’ ”
  • You don’t want to live in that neighborhood, you can afford to live over here where you’ll feel more comfortable.”

If you can’t watch the entire course right now, here’s one key takeaway:

Bias Override is a way to make sure that your behavior aligns with your values. Integrating this into your real estate practice means:

  • Developing protocols for how to provide all clients with equal treatment
  • Learning how to manage your mindset so your interpersonal interactions with clients are respectful and successful
  • Creating scripts for how to navigate conversations about subjects such as schools to make sure you are conveying the same information to each client

It’s important to ensure that all of your clients can obtain the exact housing they desire. In Michigan, studies show that housing inequality is still prevalent despite 1968’s Fair Housing Act. A 2016 survey found that in Metro Detroit, black applicants were twice as likely to be denied a home loan as white applicants. In Lansing, black applicants fare even worse with a denial rate three times higher than whites.

This week, join in the fight for housing equality by setting aside some time to recognize your own hidden biases and start taking steps to change your way of thinking.

 


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Love Wins in Real Estate

The LGBTQ+ community across the nation celebrated as the U.S Supreme Court ruled that existing federal law forbids job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender status. This is a major victory for advocates of gay rights. By formally recognizing LGBT individuals into federal anti-discrimination law, the Court effectively rejected the withholding of rights. The LGBTQ+ movement is determined to gain equality, and this ruling showcases the strides that have been made and the challenges we still face when it comes to discrimination in the U.S.

In a landmark 6-3 decision, the court ruled that employers can’t fire lesbian, gay, or transgender people simply for being who they are. The ruling says Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, and sex applies to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The passing of this ruling and the many more to come will bring change to real estate and fair housing and allow real estate professionals to tap into a much broader demographic than ever before.

Members of the LGBTQ+ community will not have to cherry-pick which state they can live in to own a home and get fair mortgage rates. According to a poll from Iowa State University, same-sex couples were charged .02% to 0.2% more in interest rates, upfront fees, or both on their loans. While to the average eye it doesn’t seem like much, it can add up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars over a 30-year mortgage. That same report shows same-sex couples were 73% more likely to be denied a mortgage than straight couples with similar profiles. “It’s very sad that even in this day and age there’s still discrimination in the mortgage process after all the strides we’ve made," says Tim Hur, a previous diversity chair of the National Association of Realtors®. "Everyone should have the same opportunity to own a home. It doesn't matter if you're gay, lesbian, Asian, black, or Hispanic."

Modern communities are more diverse than ever so why the great divide? Lack of confidence may help explain why LGBTQ+ home ownership rates lag those of America overall. According to the survey, 54% of LGBTQ+ respondents owned homes, compared with the national home ownership rate of 63.8% (which is itself at the lowest point since 1993).

LGBTQ+ who rent, particularly Millennials, have their own concerns, however.

For a generation that many have been deemed “Generation Rent”, the survey said, of LGBT Millennials surveyed, 59% say they plan to have children in the future; having children being a potential motivator for purchasing a home. Housing discrimination is a whopping 73% of the survey's respondents’ strongest concerns, whether they wanted to buy or rent. Choosing where to live is the first step in the path to home ownership and immediately we see the importance of being in an accepting and welcoming community. As LGBTQ+ people move from renting to home buying, the right neighborhood remains vital. Unfortunately, the fear of discrimination also plays a massive role in the LGBTQ+ community with 46% of renters fearing it during their future home buying process.

“Recall that ‘We, the People’ were once white, property-owning men,” said Ruth Bader Ginsburg, U.S. Supreme Court Justice. “Native Americans were originally not part of ‘We, the People,’ nor were people held in human bondage, women, or newcomers to our shores. Today, ‘We, the People,’ has a marvelous diversity, wholly absent in the beginning.” We are the people. All of us. Together.

 

 


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Real Estate: Leading the Way to Economic Recovery

In the wake of a world wide pandemic and having to hit the restart button into the “new normal” we have found that the US economy is but a shadow of its former self. One bright spark in the universe of unknowns is the real estate industry. More and more U.S. states are re-opening for summer business. People will begin to go back to work and the financial landscape of the country will start to turn around.

The significant reasons why the housing market could be such a driving force is the impact it has on the local economy. Buying and selling a home goes far beyond personal growth and satisfaction, it supports our economy as a whole. According to a recent study by the National Association of Realtors (NAR), the average new home sale has a total economic impact of $88,416. Robert Dietz, Chief economist and senior VP for economics and housing policy of The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) says: “Overall, the data lends evidence to the NAHB forecast that housing will be the leading sector in an eventual economic recovery.”

On a month to month basis a surge of delayed transactions can be processed as the country opens. Some people who would have, in the absence of the pandemic, closed in March, April and May are likely to close in June and July. Add to those closings the buyers who were likely to close in June or July, in the pandemic’s absence, and there is a surge above normal for summer months. According to experts, the economy will begin to recover in the second half of this year. In addition, CNBC notes: “Mortgage demand from home buyers shows unexpectedly strong and quick recovery…The quick recovery has surprised most forecasters.”

The most considerable challenge for real estate agents is not necessarily the market, but all the changes in how activities are conducted moving forward. The “new normal” for construction, remodeling and sales will result in many new or changed processes. Those who can quickly adjust, by reevaluating and tweaking procedures, will thrive. Those who are stuck with a “this is how I’ve always done it” mentality will find the “new normal” a difficult environment.

We are facing one of the greatest challenges of our lifetime rebuilding the American economy, and real estate and the housing market will play a monumental factor in how quickly we can jump-start our economy which may be sooner than we think.

 


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Uncertainty in the Real Estate Market

Harry S. Truman once said “America was not built on fear. America was built on Courage, on Imagination, and Unbeatable Determination to do the job at hand.” That statement rings true for all of us once again. We all know, that the current situation makes it extremely difficult to project the future of the economy. Sam Khater, Chief Economist at Freddie Mac, says: “The uncertainty of the crisis means forecasts of economic activity are more unclear than usual.” Analysts normally look at economic data and compare it to previous slowdowns to create their projections. This situation, as we know, is anything but normal.

Analysts must incorporate data from three different sciences into their recovery equation:

  1. Business Science– How has the economy rebounded from similar slowdowns in the past?
  2. Health Science– When will COVID-19 be under control? Will there be another flareup of the virus this fall?
  3. Social Science– After businesses are fully operational, how long will it take American consumers to return to normal consumption patterns? (Ex: going to the movies, attending a sporting event, or flying).

The challenge of accurately combining the three sciences into a single projection has created uncertainty, and it has led to a wide range of opinions on the timing of the recovery. Quarterly growth contracted significantly in the world’s second-biggest economy – China – for the first time in 28 years, skyrocketing jobless numbers in the U.S., and warnings from OPEC that demand for oil will fall to a 30-year low, have many wondering if it really will be business as usual once the coronavirus pandemic is over. Sam Khater, Chief Economist at Freddie Mac still has hope stating, “We expect that most of the economic damage from the virus will be contained to the first half of the year. Going forward, we should see a recovery starting in the second half of 2020.”

Right now, the vast majority of economists and analysts believe a full recovery will take anywhere from 6-18 months. No one truly knows the exact timetable, but it will be coming.  A recent global poll shows that people have some serious doubts despite reassurances from many governments that we will see a quick recovery in the economy once the outbreak is under control. The majority of people in 10 out of the 15 countries surveyed say a quick economic recovery is unlikely once the lockdown from the pandemic is lifted, with this sentiment highest in hard-hit European countries.

The fear and uncertainty we feel right now are very real, and this is not going to be easy. We can, however, see strength in our current market through homeowner equity that has not been there in the past. That may be a bright spark to help us make it through. While some have expected more people to find themselves underwater, new research from Atom Data Solutions suggests U.S. homeowners are still four times more likely to be equity rich, than seriously underwater.

Many companies will be able to bounce back nicely. But yes, there will be some businesses that don’t survive the shutdowns. Other businesses might be operating at severely reduced capacity or will have taken on additional debt burdens and, therefore, won’t be able to bring back all of their prior workforces. Experts agree the pace of recovery, likely in the second half of the year, is uncertain because it depends on the extent of the damage in the first half such as the permanent loss of industry.

Bottom Line

“It is better to plan for the worst and be pleasantly surprised than to be caught unprepared.”

 


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Helping Home Buyers in a Seller’s Market

A seller’s market meant that current inventory is less than the number of buyers in the real estate market. For buyers, that means more than one person may be interested in a single listing. Unfortunately, this means your buyers may end up heart broken. Someone may out bid them and if they have already fallen in love with the home it will be even harder. It’s important to prepare your clients for reality versus expectations as they begin their hunt for the home of their dreams- or as close to their dreams as possible.

In a sellers’ market a buyer must change their home buying strategy to have success when many homes will have multiple offers. Time is of the essence. Multiple offers happen with more regularity in a sellers' market than a buyer's market. That's because by its very nature a seller's market is defined in part by low inventory and lots of home buyers. A beautiful home that is priced well can attract more than one offer. Remember, your client might not be the only buyer.

Preparing the Home Buying Offer in a Seller's Market

  • Price. Price is not always the most important factor. But do not offer less than list price. Realize you may need to offer more than the amount the seller is asking.
  • Earnest Money Deposit. A larger earnest money deposit might look very attractive to a seller. Your client is going to pay it anyway at closing.
  • Don't Request Favors. This is not the time to ask the seller to give you the refrigerator or washer and dryer, or part with fixtures, or paint the front door.
  • Delay Buyer PossessionIf it is customary for the seller to move at closing, give the seller a few extra days to move. Another buyer probably won't think of this maneuver, and the seller will look more kindly upon an offer that lets them move at leisure.
  • Submit Preapproval and Proof of Funds Documentation. If your preapproval letter is from an out-of-area broker or lender, get a local preapproval instead. Mortgage pre-approval goes further than prequalification because you submit all the required paperwork up front. The bank then verifies the amount you can afford to pay for your next home. It takes the guesswork out of your home search and shows sellers you can back your offer up with real money.

Be Upfront About All Expenses

In the world of real estate, referrals and repeat business drive an agent’s success over time. Make an effort to present a clear picture of all the expenses a home buyer has after purchasing a home. Go over how much property taxes and mortgage insurance are and how they’re added into the overall payment. Explain the average utilities on that home and the cost of maintenance. Having this information presented clearly allows buyers to choose a house they can truly afford, even when all the little extras are added in.

Don’t Let Impatience Wreck Their Budget

Patience can be hard to come by when you feel pressure to beat buyers to the punch. But try not to get so carried away you forget the financial goals you’re working toward. Remember, it is recommended keeping your clients mortgage payment to no more than 25% of their monthly take-home pay on a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage.

Stress the Value of Improvements

While a turnkey home is attractive to homebuyers because they can move in and not worry about doing a single thing, it isn’t always realistic for buyers on a budget. If their budget doesn’t align with their wants and needs, stress the value of buying lower and making some improvements on their own. Buyers can expect a 70 percent return on investment from improvements to the exterior of the home, such as new siding. This not only gives them something to take pride in but can also help them financially down the road.

Jump on That Seller's Market Showing

Don't let your buyer wait until the weekend to view a home in a seller's market. By the weekend, that home could be sold. Try to be one of the first showings. Sellers usually don't enjoy having buyers come through their homes at all hours of the day, so most would like to see their home sold quickly. If you write a good offer, a fast offer and a clean offer, your client’s chances of acceptance are far better than those of a buyer who is unprepared.

It’s hard to leave emotions out of the home-buying process. After all, your clients purchase a place where they’ll live out their days, raise families and have gatherings of friends and those they love. It’s an emotional decision in many ways. However, if your buyers approach purchasing a home from the emotional side of things, they won’t be as likely to make smart business decisions. Do your best to guide them toward smart choices that will protect them financially, but at the end of the day, remember that you also must deliver a house they’ll love. When you balance those two competing needs, you’ll win both as a real estate agent and as a person.

 


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What the USMCA Trade Agreement Means to Real Estate

Real Estate professionals across the U.S. are excited to finally see progress with the House approval of the USMCA. The USMCA (United States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement) will replace the current trade policy NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement). The House of Representatives passed the revised trade agreement after last month when for the first time, the Canadian, Mexican and U.S Realtor Associations expressed joint, public support for specific policy. The associations represent more than 1.5 million Realtors throughout North America.

Canada and Mexico are our two largest trading partners, millions of American jobs rely on goods and services that go back and forth between the three countries. President Trump said that this will be the most important trade deal ever made by the U.S.A. This deal will re-enforce cross-border investment opportunities for each of the respective real estate industries. It may not get mentioned often, but the trade that happens between these three countries has a large impact on the commercial real estate sector. The construction industry in Texas alone generates more than 400,000 jobs and $62.2 billion to the state's economy.

Expanding jobs means a growing need for more space—particularly, more industrial spaces. Industrial space in Mexico and Canada is growing exponentially. To put it simply, the USMCA eliminates unfair trade practices and is very good for our country’s workforce, which will lead to more consumer spending, including purchase of real estate with new home buyers. The updated USMCA will boost trade on everything from cars to dairy products. Tariff agreements make Mexico an ideal place for manufacturers and auto parts makers to set up shop. It will also offer worker protections and labor fairness and lead to bigger paychecks. These tariffs, combined with other factors like the labor and materials cost and close location, make Mexico a less expensive option than anywhere else in the world.

The U.S. housing market is struggling with an inventory shortage that has depressed sales in nearly all 50 states. The so-called “months supply” number that measures how long it would take to sell off the existing stock of homes fell to 3.7 in November, according to the National Association of Realtors. Most economists consider a six-month supply to be a balanced market. The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement will help to ease the nation’s housing shortage by stabilizing the prices of materials used in construction, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

 


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A Home for the Holidays

Nothing says holidays like having your family gathered in your home while you celebrate what’s important. Around this time each year, many homeowners decide to wait until after the holidays to list their houses. Similarly, others who already have their homes on the market remove their listings until the spring. Many sellers believe spring is the best time to put their home on the market because buyer demand traditionally increases at that time of year. What they don’t know is if every homeowner believes the same thing, everyone will list and buy at the same time and therefore encounter far more competition. According to NAR, the sweet spot for selling is November through January. Here are the top reasons why listing your clients house now (or keeping it on the market) may be the best choice they can make.

5 great reasons to tell your clients not to wait:

  1. Buyers at this time of year are serious. Purchasers who are looking for homes during the holidays are serious buyers and are ready to buy now. At this time of year, purchasers who are serious about buying a home will be in the marketplace. Your client and their family will not be bothered and inconvenienced by mere lookers. The lookers are at the mall or online doing their holiday shopping.
  2. The stage is set. Homes show better when decorated for the holidays. There is something about lights, bulbs and ornaments that make you want to cozy up and stay awhile.
  3. Prices are at a sweet spot. Over the past few months we’ve seen the supply of homes for sale decreasing year-over-year. Prices are projected to appreciate by 4.8% over the next year according to Corelogic. If your clients are moving to a higher priced home, it will wind up costing them more in both down payment and mortgage payment if they wait.
  4. The desire to own a home doesn’t stop during the holidays. Buyers who were unable to find their dream homes during the busy spring and summer months are still searching, and your client's home may be the answer. According to NAR, the median days on the market for a listing was only 33 days last month!
  5. Competition is low. The supply of listings increases substantially after the holidays. Also, in many parts of the country, new construction will continue to surge and reach new heights in 2020, which will lessen the demand for their house next year. Temperatures aren’t the only thing that heats up in the spring – so do listings! In 2018, listings increased from December to May. Don’t wait for these listings and the competition that comes with them to come to the market before your clients decide to list their house.

Freddie MacFannie Mae, and the Mortgage Bankers Association all believe homes sales will increase steadily over the next year. Real estate is impacted by the economy (and the consumer’s belief in the strength of the economy). The fact that most economic experts are calling for the recovery to continue through 2020 means the housing market will also remain strong for the foreseeable future. If you have a homeowner who has considered selling their house recently, let them know that now may be the best time to put it on the market.

 


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Tips and Tricks to Pass your Real Estate Exam

If you are like me, deciding to get your real estate license is a big deal. You’ve spent time looking for the best exam prep course for the best price and now you’re signed up to take your exam. You’ve circled the date on your calendar and the pre-test jitters are setting in. You have questions like “how much should I study? and "what should I study?” Every state's exam may be slightly different but the test taking skills you will need are universal. Here are some of the best exam taking tips to help you pass your exam.

Obviously the most important factor in passing the real estate exam is knowing the material. However, don't lose sight of the goal: passing the test! Learning is great but you can't use what you've learned if you don't pass.

  1. Start by only answering the easy questions. Read the entire exam and only answer the questions you absolutely know the answer to. This will give you a sense of progress and your subconscious will begin thinking about the questions you skipped. When you’ve got a timed test, there’s always the concern that you’ll get hung up in a section and not be able to finish the test. Don’t be one of those people--unanswered questions are marked wrong. Wouldn’t it be a shame if the last three questions on the test were easy ones— guaranteed points for you--but you wound up just having to fill in a random answer on them because you didn’t have time to actually read and think about them? By skipping through the questions you don’t know the answers to and focusing first on the questions you do know the answers to, you’re assuring yourself that you get time to answer the questions you are most likely to get right.
  2.  If you don't know it, wait. Skip questions if you don't know the answer--don't waste time on questions you don't know. For example, if math is difficult for you, skip the math problems until after you finish the rest of the exam. Occasionally, the answer to an earlier question will be revealed in a later question. It is not uncommon on the real estate license exam to have questions that relate to one another, like using the same purchase or sale scenario. These hidden answers are another reason why reading all the way through the exam once at the beginning is a great idea.
  3. Don't second guess yourself. As a general rule, once you've answered a test question, don't change your answer even if you're unsure of the answer you selected. It has been statistically proven that you are much more likely to change an answer from correct to incorrect. An easy way to get tripped up on the real estate licensing exam is to misinterpret an answer choice, thanks to complicated wording. Deceptive language is fair game on tests like this, so double-negatives, unrelated conclusions, or red herrings (especially in the math portion of the test) are common. Do your best to puzzle it out, but ultimately move on without answering if you estimate having to spend more than a minute thinking about the correct answer.
  4. There is no penalty for guessing. Once you have gone through the exam at least twice, time may be running short and now would be a good time to start guessing. The worst that can happen when you guess on a question is that you don’t get any point. The best thing that can happen though, is that you have a one in four shot at getting a point. Unanswered questions are marked wrong, and it is far better to take a chance on a wrong answer than eliminate any possibility of getting the correct answer. That being said, you can increase your odds by trying to make an educated guess--there is likely at least one answer that is obviously wrong, so don't guess blindly: read the question and answers first and choose the most likely answer.
  5. Don't compete with other applicants. You're given plenty of time to complete the exam and you should use as much of it as you need. Don't worry if other examinees finish before you do, most likely they are taking a completely different exam. All types of exams are given in one room. You may be sitting next to a plumber taking his exam or a beautician completing hers. If by chance, there is more than one real estate hopeful, remember that many students who finish quickly… fail.

Real estate licensing exams are pass/fail, there is no extra credit for a perfect score. If you’re like me, the allure of a perfect score on a test is hard to ignore, but in the case of the real estate licensing exam, we must. Remember, your goal is to answer the number of questions correctly that will get you a passing score. Use all your best energy to get to the passing threshold—anything beyond that doesn’t matter.

Bonus Tip: do as many practice real estate exam questions as you can. The test is multiple choice and you will perform MUCH better if you've been doing practice tests that mimic the exam. Use a trusted service like ours to prepare for the actual real estate exam.

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Falling in Love with Your Open Houses this Autumn

The beginning of autumn is like a breath of fresh air--a bit of relief from the offensive summer heat is more than welcome at this time of year. Real estate professionals can capitalize on buyers' eagerness to enjoy fall by bringing the best of the season into their open houses. By using the weather to your advantage and creating some seasonal charm, your open houses will be a hit!

Potential home buyers are likely to purchase a home before the holiday season gets in full swing--this means they will be more serious and ready to make an offer as soon as they find the right fit.  Here are some tips to planning a sensational autumn open house.

Up the Curb Appeal

Set the tone the second interested buyers walk up with a festive fall wreath and doormat. It’s an easy way to add color and style to the front entry, which is great for curb appeal. A doormat invites people in and can add a touch of personality. Bonus: the doormat can also help keep the floors clean.

Focus on Lighting

Lighting can be just as important during an open house as it is in your real estate photographs. Make sure any exterior lighting is working properly and utilize a mix of lamps and ceiling lights to create the perfect ambiance. Don’t go overboard with scented candles or similar items--some viewers may be allergic to the smell. To play it safe, look into electric candles or other lighting sources that can make your property glow without upsetting potential buyers.

Serve Seasonal Refreshments

Providing refreshments for an open house is an excellent, low cost way to incorporate fall touches into your open house. Think about pairing warm cookies with FAQ sheets on the neighborhood or hot cocoa next to a printed floor plan. This personal touch, while small, can make a big impact. Potential buyers will feel comfortable in the space and leave with all the information they need.

Add Autumn-Inspired Elements to the Decor

Continue the autumn theme throughout the house by adding touches of seasonal decor: fall-colored throw blankets and pillows on the couch, a pumpkin cookie jar and apple-cinnamon potpourri in the guest bathroom.

Open Up the Windows

Now is the best time of year when you can open the windows and let the crisp, clean air inside. If you have a fantastic view or outdoor living space, opening the doors and windows can also call attention to the features.

Hosting a memorable fall open house will rely on your ability to make potential buyers feel at home in the space. Create a cozy atmosphere by relying on little fall touches. Keep the inside of the property warm and incorporate subtle fall decor. To make the house even cozier, you can leave out a few fall activities for kids like coloring pages or word puzzles. Between the activities, the warmer temperatures, and any other fall touches, potential buyers will fall in love with the property.

 


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Two Real Estate Firms in Hot Water in Hawaii

 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has settled with both Century 21 Homefinders of Hawaii in Hilo, and Coldwell Banker Island Properties of Kahuhui, Maui for violating the federal Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Collectively the companies have agreed to pay more than $26,000 in penalties for failing to provide proper lead-based paint disclosure to buyers and renters of homes built before 1978 in Maui and the Big Island.

The companies were cited under the TSCA’s lead-based paint disclosure rule, which applies to housing built before the residential use of lead-based paint was banned in 1978. The rule requires sellers and lessors of pre-1978 homes to provide prospective home buyers and tenants with a federal brochure about lead-based paint, any information known about lead-based paint in the home, and a warning statement about the potential dangers of lead-based paint. Buyers also have the option to inspect pre-1978 homes before becoming obligated to make a purchase. With this knowledge, potential home buyers and tenants can make informed decisions about whether to buy or rent a specific residence.

Century 21 Homefinders of Hawaii has agreed to pay a $6,962 penalty to settle alleged disclosure violations. Coldwell Banker Island Properties paid a $19,344 penalty in an earlier settlement. Both real estate companies have certified that they are presently in compliance.

High levels of lead in blood can cause permanent damage to the nervous system and widespread health problems, according to the EPA, including reduced intelligence and attention span, hearing loss, stunted growth, reading and learning problems, and behavioral difficulties. Young children with developing nervous systems are most vulnerable. “Reducing childhood lead exposure and addressing associated health impacts is a top priority for the EPA,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Mike Stoker in a news release. “These settlements protect Hawaii communities by ensuring that lead paint rules and regulations are followed.”

Click here to learn more about the Disclosure Rule.

 


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