When buying or selling a house, your agent is supposed to act as your expert guide, answering questions and offering advice to help you get the best deal possible. But sometimes they don’t have all the answers, or rather, they won’t give you the answers. Why? The reason, in a nutshell, is fair housing laws. Because of restrictions put in place by the Fair Housing Act to prevent housing discrimination based on race, religion, sex, nationality, familial status or disability, there are some things agents simply can’t legally tell you. Even making somewhat vague comments could be interpreted as showing bias and fall on the wrong side of the law. So, here are some questions for your real estate agent that they might not answer and how you can still get the information you need.
1. Is the neighborhood safe?
This would seem like an easy one for agents to answer, but saying the wrong thing could have implications that violate the law. For example, if a real estate agent mentioned crime statistics in the wrong context, it could be interpreted as a reference to race and therefore be illegal. This is why real estate agents will most likely avoid this question and instead encourage you to spend time in the neighborhood and judge for yourself. You can also look up crime statistics on your own or go to the local police precinct and ask questions there. The point here is that only you can determine whether you feel safe in a given area. So, do your own research, explore the area and come to your own conclusion about whether it’s a place you’d like to live.
2. How are the schools in this area?
Agents aren’t allowed to give their opinion on schools because their answers could be interpreted as biased against a certain group. They will more likely refer you to a school or district website. School districts publish their own graduation rates, attendance rates and other information that will help you make your own decision. You can also ask people you know who live in the area as they are ordinary citizens and would not be subject to fair housing laws.
3. What type of people live in this area?
Of all the questions you could ask your real estate agent, this is the one they will almost certainly refuse to answer. Describing the “type” of people who live in a specific neighborhood would be profiling and definitely in violation of housing laws. If the “type” of people living in an area is important to you, you will need to define that for yourself and do your own research. If you are hoping to live in a very progressive area, for example, you can reach out to local political organizations who collect data about different voting precincts. You can also see who the city, county or district representatives are and judge the area based on the political leanings of the elected officials and local policies.
4. Is this a good neighborhood to raise a family?
Familial status is protected under fair housing laws, so this is another area where agents are prohibited from saying too much. Instead, they will likely encourage you to take a drive through the neighborhood and see for yourself how many families are out walking or playing in their yards. You can look up how many parks are in the area, the number of local daycares and other family-friendly amenities and institutions. These will all give you a better impression of the area and help you determine if it’s really somewhere you want to live.
5. Where can I find a neighborhood with a large “X” population?
If you want to find housing where you will be surrounded by others of your same faith, ethnicity, lifestyle, language or other background, your agent will be no help. Guiding you toward areas based on this type of demographic information would violate the law. Instead, you can look up census data and use websites that publish the type of demographic data you’re looking for to find an area where you will feel most comfortable.
It can be frustrating if you have a long list of questions for your real estate agent and aren’t getting the answers you’re looking for. But the agents are just doing their job and obeying the law. If you want certain pieces of information, you will need to do a little legwork on your own and find out for yourself. In the end, forming your own opinion about a neighborhood will always be more reliable and informative than just taking the word of someone else anyway. So, for the issues that are important to you, do your due diligence and find the home and area that will be perfect for you and your family.
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