How to Represent Families with Special Needs Children When Buying a Home


Once in great while, someone shares a post that is beyond gold star worthy. This is one of those times. I suggest that everyone pause and read this and if you are not using this as a model in your practice, change your style.

Representing clients requires that you attend to their needs.


Via Andrew J. Lenza (Coldwell Banker):

Business cards? Check.

Lockbox key? Check.

Active listings? Check.

Your clients enter through the front door of your brokerage. They have a special needs child.


You didn’t ask if they had any special needs when you chatted on the phone? You asked number of bedrooms, style of house, school system and — of course — price. But you didn’t mix in the all important question: “Do you have any special needs that influence the purchase of your next house?”

I now know to ask that question. As a father, I could be your client. Let’s begin.

Representing Buyers with Special Needs — How To Greet Us

Today’s blog is going to address the neurologically impaired child, not a physical diagnosis like blindness or deaf.

We don’t like “handicapped.” We despise “disabled.”

Never refer to our special child in front of us with “he.” It’s rude, even if the child lacks the functioning to listen and understand he’s just been slighted. He has a name. Address him with his name and include him in the conversation with respect.

Don’t insist on driving us to the properties. Our minivan is equipped with a DVD-TV for movies. We’re prepared with a book or craft bag. We have snacks. Going in your car upsets our routine. You can “bond” with us by being an excellent Realtor.

Special needs is a relative diagnosis. Be careful with sharing your personal story. Relating how your daughter overcame a lisp and social awkwardness (no easy task) to go on to college may resonate with us — unless our daughter’s adult years will be spent in a group home.

Don’t forget our other children. Their “normal” needs are often compromised and ignored. Be interested in them. Include them in the process.

Providing Sensitive Service

The next time you’ll know your clients have a special consideration (because now you know to ask) and before the initial meeting you’ll call the local Director of Special Education or Services in the school district and obtain an information packet. Or download some info from the school website.

Odds are “we” — your clients — already did so but you’ll impress us with your fore-thought. (Do not mention your clients by name to the school district; it’s a violation of client confidentiality.)

  • Identify school districts and programs with a special needs support group or their own Parent Teachers Organization. My wife and I co-founded the group in Colts Neck called PROUD and the current President and Vice President have elevated the group to impressive status.
  • Special needs children occupy a diverse spectrum with vastly different needs. Some require an intensive IEP (Individualized Education Plan) while others need supplemental support as outlined by a Section 504.
  • Be careful with making generalized statements about the school system like “every IEP child receives an aide.” School policies change constantly and are case specific.

Qualifying “the” House

If my family and I were re-entering the housing market as buyers, these are the “hot button” issues we would consider:

  • If the master bedroom is on a different floor than the kids’ rooms, the house probably won’t fit.
  • Swimming pools could be an advantage for a child receiving aquatic therapy but a nightmare for a nonverbal teenager who can’t swim. The above ground pool connected to a rear door deck scares me witless. An in-ground pool should be protected with a perimeter fence that surrounds the immediate area of the pool.
  • “Higher” tends to better for us. Higher dead bolts on doors so our children don’t escape at night. Higher railings inside the house on catwalks and overlooks of double entry foyers. Higher ceilings in the basement.
  • The basement is often finished and used for an in-home therapy space.
  • As to the basement we’re not attracted to Yankees or crawl spaces. We want the basement steps to be complete with full risers. We don’t like gaps or empty slots in the steps.
  • A new garage door opener with working sensors and a belt drive is far safer than a heavy, manual door operated with springs, I believe.
  • Lot selection and features is critical. We’re scared of lots in close proximity to shared driveways, retaining walls, creeks, irrigation ponds, sewer grates, rainfall catch basins, high tension wires, electric substations and centralized cable boxes.
  • Almost 90% of the homes in Colts Neck are served by private well and septic, as are many rural communities. If your clients are relocating from out of state and an urban center (especially Staten Island, New York where we’re skeptical of septic systems), you may have to prove that a child cannot fall into these on-property “utilities.” Very often the unfamiliar client believes there is an access hatch that could be left open accidentally.
  • We like cul-de-sacs where we can see and hear the traffic coming.
  • Fences — front and rear — are good.
  • We tend to be paranoid about mold, radon, lead paint, water quality, aluminum wiring, UREA formaldehyde. We have a sick child. We don’t want a sick house, too. Be prepared to exercise patience and diligence. If you’re sloppy with property disclosure, we’re gone. You will have one shot at proving why an issue with the house can be resolved. Come armed with data, documentation and referrals of people who you would hire to work in your home.
  • We’re leery of elevated brick fireplace hearths because of the tripping or falling hazard.
  • We like convenient access to a school or community park.

The key is to ask — what features pose the greatest security? the greatest risk? There may not be a house that fits all our criteria in its current state. We may decide to purchase the best candidate; not because we love it but because we can work with it.

Angst or Acceptance

If my tone carries an edge, it’s because I want that special needs family to receive the very best representation in Philadelphia or Phoenix or Portland. Special needs famliies tend to be on the polar opposite of the truism “one size fits all.”

We’re tough clients with highly specialized criteria. Yet we value sensitivity, diligence and thoroughness. Why should you work harder for us?

We tend to be loyal with people who “get us.” We’re networked in with other special needs people who buy and sell homes. We’re an excellent source of referrals. (Once we accept you, you tend to be “in” for life. Or so it goes in my family.)

Andrew J. Lenza, ABR GRI MBA

Branch Vice President & Broker Sales Associate

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