We’ve recently written a blog article for Autism Awareness Day on how Children on the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) need safer homes and, while researching on the matter, we noticed how limited the results were when searching for real estate agents specialized in clients with special needs. The ones that did come up were scarce real estate agents that had themselves relatives with special needs and decided to put their factual knowledge regarding their struggle available to clients.
After the frustration passed, we thought to ourselves that this lemon needs to be turned into lemonade: applying the supply and demand ratio to this situation makes it obvious that homes for the disabled is a great unexplored real estate market niche for real estate agents.
First, some context:
Currently, there is no official license or regulation concerning the professional aid of people with special needs in real estate. The Americans with Disabilities Act, a civil rights bill signed in 1990, does apply to every field of work and prohibits professionals like real estate agents of discriminating people with disabilities; however, empathy is the bare minimum all real estate agents should have towards any homebuyer or home seller, right? It is, after all, what agency is all about: you advocate for a person and their needs, which are always unique; there’s no person like the other.
So, what we are saying is that, from a business standpoint, this is great news as you won’t have to spend money with specialized courses or certifications – though they will hopefully be created down the road to help sort the really specialized agents in homes for the disabled from the ones who only claim it as a marketing tool for their brands. All you need to do, if you’re interested in helping those specific home buyers or home sellers, is spending your time and attention studying and understanding the many challenges dealt by people with unique needs when they look for a home relocation to better suit their unique needs.
However, that doesn’t mean it will be a piece of cake, after all, being a real estate agent specialized in clients with special needs entails much more than making sure the house has an accessible bathroom or the doorway is large enough to pass a wheelchair through.
The term “special needs” is used to a variety of groups and conditions: people on the autism spectrum disorder (ASD), veterans with traumas (mental or physical), blind or deaf people, cerebral palsy, down syndrome, ADHD… That means there’s not a “one size fits all” path through this niche. Nonetheless, there are some general roads all real estate agents specialized in homes for the disabled will walk on:
Re-learning the concept of location: The “location, location, location” motto becomes imperative here. You’ll want nothing but the Best places in the US to live if your child has special needs, right? But there is a sensitive difference, for instance, as to what’s considered a Best School District for a family that has children with disabilities. The home buyers won’t be looking for schools with a great rate of acceptance at Ivy League colleges; the home buyers will be looking for schools with accessibility features, a track record of good special needs education and social integration of children with disabilities and even a low ratio of teachers to students. A good real estate agent specialized in homes for the disabled will have that information at the tip of the tongue. For more information regarding special needs education, you should read the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, an important piece of American legislation put in action also in 1990.
Sometimes, school is not even a factor, but still, you have to know what sort of facilities can help them soothe their everyday obstacles. What are the best hospitals around? Is there a specialized one that's great for your client's condition? Are there any stores or service around highly recommended for any kind of disability? And what about the house itself? Is it close to a body of water or any other kind of danger that can pose a problem for people with disabilities? Is it secluded, a gated community or a cul de sac to better protect children with disabilities from wandering and getting lost? Does it have a reliable home security system that can help protecting them?
Moreover, when doing a home relocation, it’s all about the community that will surround your client. Are they educated on the subject, are they embracing of those unique needs? A great profile of a real estate agent to specialize in this niche is that of a talkative, observant professional that knows not only the features of the house, but the tastes and way of thinking of the neighbors in the area. That kind of person that ends up becoming friends with their clients and other people that, in the end, didn’t even become clients. If you’re a “close the deal and move on to the next” kind of agent, maybe this is not the right niche for you.
In-depth knowledge of extra legislation: Did you notice how we’ve already name-dropped two Acts regarding disabilities? As a real estate agent specializing in the relocation of clients with special needs, you will need to know them all. Not only the federal ones - like the homeownership voucher program - but the several state (even district!) legislation that can impact the process of finding the perfect homes for the disabled. A real estate agent serious about aiding clients with disabilities has to know them all to hook their clients up with the best opportunities possible when looking for homes for the disabled.
Get out of your comfort zone: Looking for homes for the disabled is challenging. It requires of you much more attention to details than your regular “detail oriented” client. For instance, taking them out for a house showing might take more of your time then you would expect. Plus, unfortunately, unexpected situations might happen, and you have to be able to help them out the best you can. All of that requires of you a higher dose of patience, calm and attention than what you are accustomed to. It is challenging, but, trust us, there are also unique rewards working this particular niche and you will hopefully enjoy them as soon as you start.
In the end, it’s all about being equipped and well prepared with the best resources to make the process easy on your client, so reach out to organizations that fight for this cause and explain your intentions, ask for help with your education. They will appreciate your effort and might even – down the road, once you’ve proven your commitment – send leads on your way.
If after reading this article you have convinced yourself of becoming specialized in homes for the disabled: congratulations and thank you! There are a lot of people out there craving for knowledgeable help and you're the one who will fill that void. Here are some statistics to back this info: according to the 2016’s Disability Statistic Annual Report made by the University of New Hampshire, the percentage of people with disabilities rose from 11.9% in 2010, to 12.6% in 2013, 2014, and 2015. That’s 12.6% of the total US population! And breaking that number down: over half (51.1%) of those 12.6% are people in the working ages of 18-64, while 41.2% are 65 and older. Disability in children and youth accounted for only 7.2% (ages 5-17) and 0.4% (under 5 years old). So, as you can see, there’s a lot of work to be done!
But if you read it all and concluded this is not the right real estate niche for you, there's absolutely no problem. You are already helping just by reading it and acknowledging the importance of the subject and can help even further by spreading the word to colleagues that might be interested in following this path.