An experienced REALTOR® is normally an encyclopedia of real estate knowledge and your go-to question answerer regarding any property on the market. What you might not know is there are some things that your agent just can’t answer…and it’s not because they don’t know, it’s because they are trying to uphold the Fair Housing Act. The Fair Housing Act, according to HUD.gov, “protects people from discrimination when they are renting, buying or securing financing for any housing. The prohibitions specifically cover discrimination because of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability and the presence of children.”
We want you to get answers to some of the more sensitive or subjective questions you might ask, so let’s go over those questions and where you can find more information.
Question #1: Is this area a good place to raise a family?
If an agent were to try to answer this question, they would not only be breaking the law, but they might also be presuming where you and your family might prosper. In addition, if your agent says a neighborhood is not family-friendly, it could imply that families with kids aren’t welcome. Conversely, if they say a neighborhood is just the opposite, it might make families without kids feel that they are not welcome. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t! Get what we’re saying!? We recommend doing a little bit of your own research such as looking at local playgrounds, recreational centers, YMCAs and schools. That leads us to the next question…
Question #2: How are the schools?
Since many U.S. schools have a deep history of racial segregation, a REALTOR® cannot and should not answer this question because it could get misconstrued as a message or opinion about race. In addition, words such as “good,” “safe” and “clean” are subjective, meaning everyone’s opinion can be different. Rather than having your agent answer this question, we recommend visiting sites that rate/rank schools, such as Great Schools or School Digger. Other resources to check out would be local parenting magazines, websites and newspapers. Once you’ve found a home or neighborhood that interests you, you might want to speak with neighbors or teachers and staff at the school you’re considering. Also, school tours are strongly recommended!
Question #3: Is this area safe?
Again, “safe” is a subjective word. Someone’s idea of safe might be different from yours. If an area in Nashville used to have higher crime rates and a history of gang activity, but has been improving over the last decade, this might be information you would like to know. Instead of having your agent try to answer this question, we recommend visiting this website for local crime statistics and maps. In regards to registered sex offenders, we recommend using this website. Megan’s Law requires convicted sex offenders to register their address with local officials and all of this information is available to the public.
Question #4: What’s the neighborhood like– Who lives here? And what is the socioeconomic level?
If you were to ask a person who lives in a particular area, you may get a more frank or opinionated answer. Your agent simply cannot answer this question, especially when it comes to race or religion. A real estate agent can’t know what your criteria may be and certainly cannot steer you in any particular direction because it could come off as a form of discrimination called “redlining.” If you would like to get a better idea of an area’s ethnic makeup or socioeconomic level, you can visit the U.S. Census website.
Next time you hear silence on the other end of a question, you now know why your REALTOR® is avoiding providing a response. This silence is a good thing- it means your agent is steering clear of sensitive issues, ones that could possibly get them in trouble. Doing a little bit of research on your own is the best method. Happy house-hunting!!