I grew up in the 1950s when the typical American family consisted of a mother (female) a father (male) and 2.2 smiling kids.
I am an only child, so I never had my requisite 1.2 siblings. I did, however, have a Dad who went to work every day in a Mad Men-esque suit and tie and a stay-at-home Mom who played after-school hostess to all the neighborhood latchkey kids. Aside from a few additional children, the majority of the neighboring families were just like us.
The cocktail hour was a daily ritual. Martinis were made solely of gin and a whisper of vermouth, garnished with an olive or a cocktail onion. My parents were olive people and drank them “dirty,” with a teaspoon of olive juice. And yes, they were shaken, not stirred.
Today we have a plethora of martinis available – apple, pear, lemon drop, pomegranate and even chocolate, to name just a few. And today’s American family has just as many variations.
Our families may be adult-only or there may be one, two, or even multiple people serving as parents to children or caregivers to elderly relatives. Heads of households can be single, married, straight, gay or lesbian, or anything in between. Age is immaterial. We have biological children, adopted children, foster children and blends of yours, mine and ours.
So when I see an advertisement for a home or subdivision that refers to it as “perfect for families,” I have to ask myself who they’re really marketing to. It’s no wonder that we have national and local fair housing laws that protect people from discrimination and that many of them center on relationships in the home.
Familial status, the presence of children under 18 in the home, is the national fair housing protected class that immediately leaps to mind. Discrimination on the basis of sex (male or female) is also illegal.
D.C. and Maryland prohibit discrimination based on marital status and sexual orientation, as well as gender identity in DC and Montgomery County. Virginia includes elderliness as a protected class and similar age discrimination provisions are in place in D.C. and in several counties in Maryland.
Real estate agents must be cautious about how we reply to questions involving the demographic makeup of a community, since our responses may be perceived as steering a client toward or away from a particular home or area, forming the basis for a complaint of housing discrimination.
Whatever our frame of reference, we want to help our clients make the right choices, so here are some ways you can help us help you during your search for a new home.
• Let us know specifically what you are looking for in a neighborhood.
• Ask for a tour of homes in your price range that have the requisite number of bedrooms and baths as well as the size, layout and facilities you may need.
• Walk around the areas you prefer and talk to people on the street; local residents are usually happy to discuss neighborhood characteristics that an agent cannot.
• Look for amenities that you want to have nearby, such as bike paths, tot lots or playgrounds, parks and community centers, and daycare or elder care facilities.
• If schools are important to you, visit their websites for basic information, then follow up by talking with administrators to determine which ones are best suited for your family members and whether the neighborhoods you like fall within their boundaries.
Above all, remember that we can’t presume to know what the word “family” means to you and what your needs are based solely on our own experiences.
My current family, for example, is a party of four. I have three “children” who range in age from 5 to 12 and are covered with fur. They urinate in the back yard, eat kibbles off the floor, sleep all day and will never get a job. Come to think of it, perhaps we’re not all that unusual.