Alexandria VA Homes for Sale: September 2010

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

This really ought to be required reading for every agent.  It certainly resonated with me and I hope it will with you, as well.  Thank you, Andrew.

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 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 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 and 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.
  • 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 and electric substations and centralized cable boxes.
  • 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.

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

We tend to be loyal with people who “get us” and we travel in packs. 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.

Okay, you just got an early rendition of my Thursday office meeting with my Coldwell Banker Middletown agents. Should I write a blog about representing special needs families who want to sell a house?

Andrew J. Lenza, ABR GRI MBA
Branch Vice President & Broker Sales Associate


From Northern Virginia to the Northern Neck, we provide you with stellar service (just read what some of our former clients have to say about it) and top notch market knowledge to help you sell your current home or buy your next dream home.

 Visit our website to search homes for sale or for more information on how we can work together to reach your real estate goals.

Comment balloon 8 commentsSusan Haughton • September 28 2010 11:38PM
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