“Is This a Good Neighborhood?” (And Other Questions Your Realtor Cannot Answer)

Even though they are working for you, there are certain topics your real estate agent isn’t permitted to discuss. This is because providing selective information is considered ‘illegal steering.’

I know, I know, sometimes you just want an opinion or “inside scoop.”  Most real estate agents will work very hard to help you find the home of your dreams. The reality, though, is that there are specific things an agent just cannot do — and for good reason. 

There are regulations in place, such as the Federal Fair Housing Act (FHA), that govern the actions of real estate agents as it relates to showing, selling, and buying real estate in a manner that is fair to all parties. The Fair Housing Act holds agents to fair and ethical standards of practice relating to how they market and sell homes — setting limits to prevent unfair or discriminatory practices. Realtors are also bound by other regulations, such as The National Association of Realtors Code of Ethics, state real estate laws, broker’s guidelines, and other anti-discrimination laws. 

More About The Federal Fair Housing Act

This is at the center of an agent’s responsibility and core of an agent’s practice. The act was signed into law in 1968 as part of the larger U.S. Civil Rights Act. Its purpose is to prevent discrimination of all kinds in housing across the U.S. In 1974 and 1988, the law was amended to include extra protections and safeguards to seven distinct protected classes. They are: 

• Race

• Color

• Religion

• National Origin

• Sex

• Disability

• Familial Status

Many states have also enacted Fair Housing Laws that have expanded this set of protected classes to include:

• Gender expression

• Orientation & identity

• Marital status

• Genetic information

• Medical conditions

• Military/veteran status

• Primary language

• Source of income

Don’t let this deter you from doing your own research. Homes.com provides a wonderful link on home values that allows purchasers to evaluate demographic statistics, as does the “fact finder” section of the U.S. Census Bureau website.

If you’re interested in the local school system and which is “preferred” or “not so good”, Realtors may be able to speak to publicly acknowledged test scores, but not which one is better, or which school system carries what reputation. Buyers can certainly do their own research, study school statistics, visit the websites for the county and the specific schools your children may attend, or even better, go visit the schools themselves. A terrific source for school research is GreatSchools.org.  Again, your Realtor can provide resources for you, but cannot sway your decision towards or away from certain school districts.

Fair housing laws state that Realtors can’t steer someone to or from a neighborhood based on the protected categories listed above — including religion. But buyers are free to drive through the neighborhood and take note of places of worship.  Realtors can provide you with a list of nearby places of worship, too. 

Crime rate and crime statistics are readily available for buyers to do research. Consider using a site like FamilyWatchdog.us or AreaVibes.com to discern the safety of the neighborhood or area you are considering. Drive through the neighborhood on various days and times to get a feel for the area. 

Next time you ask your Realtor a question that could be misconstrued as illegal steering, your Realtor will tell you if they can’t answer your question. Most Realtors are more than happy to help you come to your own conclusions by suggesting websites, resources, and/or common practices to get a feel for where to live. As the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development suggests, “where you live is your choice, don’t let anyone tell you differently.”

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