As REALTORS®, we get asked many questions by Buyers. We’re happy to help answer as many as we can, ones like: how old is the roof on a house, or does it use gas or electrical heat?
Your Solutions agent can tell you pretty much anything you need to know about a home you’re hoping to buy (or at least find answers for you).
But there are several questions that we (any REALTOR®) aren’t legally allowed to answer based on Fair Housing Laws.
Many of these questions can seem quite reasonable to ask, for example:
Is this a good or safe neighborhood and are there a lot of kids? How are the schools? What type of people live here? Can you show us a neighborhood where there are a large number of families, etc.?
As REALTORS®, we’re required to adhere by national housing laws, or the Fair Housing Act, and we can’t answer these questions because of laws that prohibit housing discrimination based on race, religion, handicap, sex, or family/economic status.
The Fair Housing Act aims to curb the practice of steering clients toward or away from certain neighborhoods, based on racial or religious reasons. Due to this legislation, agents must find other methods for answering these tricky questions to best serve the needs of clients.
When a Buyer asks an agent if this is a good neighborhood, it could be a code word for something. What an agent might think is a good neighborhood and what a Buyer might think is a good neighborhood aren’t necessarily one in the same.
What an agent will likely do is set a Buyer on the path of looking up the answer for themselves. Agents aren’t allowed to direct Buyers to what websites to go to per se, but they can tell a Buyer that a lot of the cities have their own websites that talk about crime statistics.
Buyers can also pull up the school ratings in any of the areas they’re looking in by punching in the names of the schools and they’ll show, in many cases, the relevant charts and graphs.
Agents often recommend that if Buyers are concerned about the schools, to go visit them and speak with the principal and teachers and figure out whether it’s a good school for their child.
Here are the top questions agents get that leave them feeling tongue-tied:
Question No. 1: Is this a good place to raise a family?
If an agent admits a certain area is not all that family-friendly or, on the other hand, is a good place for kids, it could imply that families with kids either are or aren’t welcome, which is a form of discrimination.
Housing professionals who try to either encourage or discourage home buyers based on the kid question can, and do, face consequences in court.
A cautious agent will refrain from presuming where you and your family will thrive. So, if Buyers want to know this info, they’ll have to do their own research.
Question No. 2: What’s the neighborhood like – is it upscale or not?
Ask a close friend this question, and you may hear a candid answer. Your agent, however, will almost certainly not answer, particularly when it comes to race, because such discussions come uncomfortably close to “redlining”—a form of discrimination in which Buyers are steered toward or away from neighborhoods based on the color of their skin.
Still, if a Buyer wants to get a sense of an area’s ethnic makeup, the U.S. Census website has all the info they need (and those sources will certainly be more accurate than any one person’s opinion) that provides demographic information including approximate average household income.
Question No. 3: Is this area safe?
Such info is readily available in the form of crime statistics. Type in an address at My Local Crime to access any recent local crimes, from vandalism, assaults, and burglaries to shootings. A map will point Buyers to the exact spot where they happened so they’ll know exactly which blocks have more activity than others.
Question No. 4: How are the schools here?
Rather than risk a potentially offensive miscommunication, agents may point Buyers to one of many websites that rank schools—such as Great Schools and School Digger.
If you have your heart set on your child attending a certain school, ask your agent to define your MLS search by the schools you want so you’ll only receive available listings in that area.
The best advice to give a Buyer is to do as much online advance research as possible and then you won’t inadvertently put your agent in an uncomfortable or even illegal position.