As a proud home owner, I  have shared my joy of being a home owner with backyard bbq’s and dinner parties with my friends. I have also tried to convert other friends still renting  that they need to stop throwing away money and buy a home. Recently I have had one friend entering into a contract to buy her first home and another looking for a home with a realtor. There experiences in hunting for a home were dramatically different.

One friend, we will call friend A, was an able body person. My other friend, we will call friend B, was a woman in a wheelchair with additional medical conditions. Both were highly educated and professional women.

My friend B, had been in her apartment for a decade and  employed by the same employer longer than that.  As a result, she knew the good and bad neighborhoods. Having lived in an apartments for more than a decade, she knew what she wanted on her “must have” list of her new home. Specifically, she needed to find a home that she could  modify for her wheelchair,  allow her to rent out part of  the home, and free of any air pollutants.

My friend B’s home state is known to host national disability organizations nearby. Seeing several individuals in a wheelchair when she is out and about is pretty common place as a result of accessibility of her state for people with disabilities. To her frustration, finding a home to meet her needs has caused her to be looking for about a year with no results.

My friend A recently moved to a nearby state for a job. Being new to the area, my friend A immediately looked for an apartment to rent.  Her focus for rent was limited to the distance to  her job and not which neighborhood is well-regarded.  She simply did not have the familiarity to make that call. She quickly discovered that the state was not rent friendly because most residents owned homes.  Finding an apartment was not an easy task.

Unlike my friend B, my friend A, renting an apartment did not end her story. Without looking, she was informed that an old farm-house was for sale below market value.  The home included five rooms and free of pollutants because it was completely renovated. This was her very first home she has ever looked at to purchase. Despite her limited knowledge of the process, her realtor did not hesitate to talk her through the process without any preconceived judgement.  Within six weeks, she was under contract.

What were the root causes that two single highly independent professional women had such vast differences in their experiences in-house hunting?  Discrimination. My friend B informed me that she had problems finding a home that would meet her requirement of having a pollutant free home. Strange I thought considering most homes required mold and other air quality inspections.  She stated that she needed a very good, almost industrialized quality, air ventilation to ensure that any pollutants entering the air would be eliminated. Her immune system was very low.  I pushed further why she couldn’t just install such a ventilation system into her new home.  The answer was disturbing.  Her realtor informed her that to put such a ventilation into any home would price her out of that market. In other words, either she couldn’t afford such a home or that she would never recover the costs if she sold the home at a later date.

However, it is a great leap to think either  option is likely to happen. Instead it is a result of unconscious bias.  The first option stems from the belief that accessible real estate is a small niche and the demand for such homes are small.  However, people with disabilities are the largest minority group. Among that group, are individuals with severe asthma condition, which would require a home with good ventilation system.  Much attention has been made in main stream society about improving the quality of individuals with asthma.  The bias lies that each type of disability has an exclusive accommodation. Creating the perception that the pool of demand is very small – only those with immune system conditions would need a home with a good ventilation system.

This same bias also causes the belief that any money you place into the accessibility of your home does not improve the value of your home. It would require the home owner to “rectify” the home so an able body person would be able to use the home. However, accessibility can be designed so all can use it. We call this the universal theory.  It’s silly to think that if a particular modification  helps someone who can’t do that particular body function some how prevents another who has no such limitation. It’s almost like a double negative. So the realtor telling my friend B that she would not be able to sell her home in the future, makes no sense.  Wouldn’t everyone want to breathe better air?

To ensure that I had not misunderstood the vast differences between my two friends, I had asked my friend A if she has seen such a bias. (My friend A has been a life long friend and is a wonderful advocate.)  She informed me she had but not for her own house hunting experience.  She stated that her father decided to renovate the floor layout of his house.  The back portion of the home had small steps.  She suggested that a small ramp replace those steps.  Her father was disgusted by the very idea, even when she pressed the idea that he may need the ramp at a later point of time.

In conclusion, while an able-body house hunter and disable house hunter may seem to be a tale of two stories.  Yet with enough time, one is just a prelude to the other.