Do Group Homes Harm Austin Neighborhoods?

by Steve Crossland, REALTOR in Austin TX on December 2, 2010 · 20 comments

We have a listing that is a good candidate for a Group Home, and we’re marketing it as such. This has earned the ire of some of the individuals living in the University Hills neighborhood in NE Austin. Let’s have a look at an emailed received from one of the concerned neighbors:

Do NOT advertise the property for sale at 3403 Loyola Lane as a “group home” in your listing. You are contributing to a major problem that exists currently in Austin and more specifically our neighborhood. Do you advertise other properties in your listings as potential “group homes?” No you don’t—I went and looked at your Crossland Team website. Your website says that you’ve been “Serving Austin since 1993,” I’m sorry, but what you’re doing isn’t serving Austin—it’s serving yourself. My assumption is that you have no idea what actually goes on in these group homes, you’re simply trying to make a quick buck. I’m betting that you wouldn’t list a property on your street as a potential “group home” would you?

It’s appalling that you would consider putting that under this listing—it shows that your concerns aren’t about making the University Hills neighborhood a better place. Your name was posted in an email circulated through our neighborhood listserv as the agent on this listing. I kindly request you revise the description for the property and remove that portion of the listing. What you are doing is devaluing the properties in the University Neighborhood and that is not good business for someone in the real estate industry. Especially someone that may hope for repeat customers in the area.

And my reply:

Thank you for expressing your concerns about our listing at 3403 Loyola. You obviously care about your neighborhood and fear that a group home would have a negative impact on your community.

This particular property is unique in that it has 6 bedrooms, 3 full baths and 3 living areas, plus a screened rear porch and an enclosed garage. It’s so large in fact that it doesn’t draw interest from the type of buyers who typically seek smaller homes in the University Hills neighborhood, and who have no use for a 6 bdrm, 3 bath home. Also, the home’s proximity directly next to an apartment complex and on a busy street near a busy intersection makes it less appealing to the typical buyer.

Due to these factors, and the excellent proximity to a bus stop and walking distance to HEB, the home is a good candidate for group home use, possibly by a church group, assisted home care, artists co-op, vegan co-op, etc. Also potentially a transitional living home for those with cognitive challenges such as mild retardation or autism who need a middle step toward integration into society and independent living. These sort of living arrangements are in fact beneficial and important to the social fabric of all communities.

I know that Austin in general, and more specifically the “Cultural Creatives” that are drawn to the older transitioning neighborhoods, are sympathetic to and supportive of inviting diverse and different types of people into their communities and lives. You, as an individual, obviously feel differently, but I will assume you don’t speak for your entire neighborhood.

Ultimately, it is up to the potential buyer to determine whether the proper zoning changes can be obtained which would permit group home use under the rules and codes of the city of Austin. We will continue to market the property as a potential group home.

The neighbors I’ve heard from thus far simply want the phrase “potential group home” removed from the comments in the listing. However, as listing agents, our fiduciary responsibility to our seller requiers that we use our best efforts and experience in marketing the property. That would include trying to attract potential buyers based on a specific use.

There are in fact improperly operated group homes in Austin that are not properly zoned and/or not in compliance with the requirements of operating a group home. These type of rouge establishments or illegal boarding houses represent a code enforement issue that can be reported on the City of Austin Code Compliance website. If there is illegal activity originating from any property, whether it’s a group home or not, that is a law enforcement issue to be handled by the police.

From what I can gather, the angry neighbors assume that, as “greedy selfish Realtors”, we’d gladly sell the home to someone intending to establish an illegal setup that will harm the neighborhood. That’s not the case, and our seller would certainly not want that either. We do, however, assume that legitimate operators of group homes have difficulty finding suitable candidate properties, and we’d like our listing to be easier to find by a legitimate operator seeking candidate group home properties, thus the inclusion of the keywords “group home” in the listing.

I don’t know if the several University Hills neighbors who have shared their ire with us thus far are just the tip of the iceberg or if they represent just a vocal few and that will be the end of it. I sort of hope it stirs up a lot of attention because we’re getting NO SHOWINGS on our listing and any added exposure and promotion would be appreciated. Those of you in University Hill, call your friends and family and help us find a buyer! That would be a win/win.

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