Buying a home can be overwhelming and many Buyers look to their Realtor® to provide information not only about homes they are interested in but also about the community, people, schools, etc. While a good Realtor will be able to direct you to reliable sources for that information, he may break the law if he answers some of the questions himself. The Fair Housing Act was enacted in 1968 to prevent housing discrimination and it limits the kind of information a real estate professional can legally provide to a customer. That shouldn’t be a problem, though, as there are other ways for Buyers to get the information they seek.
Below are three questions buyers commonly ask and, because an agent can’t legally answer them, tips on how to find the answers.
Are There Many Children In This Neighborhood? Answering this question could be considered steering the customer to or from a neighborhood, which is a Fair Housing violation. I usually recommend that my customers get this info by driving around the community and observing. Ideally you could check out the neighborhood around the time school lets out or on a weekend to get a feel for the demographics. You can also possibly find clues in yards or driveways such as trampolines, bicycles, swing sets and strollers.
Is This A Safe Community? Of course nobody wants to buy a home in a high-crime neighborhood but your Realtor® is not the source you should rely on to determine the safety of an neighborhood. Many law enforcement agencies now publish crime statistics and maps on the internet. If that isn’t available you can call the local police or sheriff’s office to get the information.
We’d Like to Live Close to Other People of the Same Religion/Ethnicity/Political Party As Us. Can You Help Us Find A Neighborhood Like That? No, no, no! Please don’t even ask this question of your agent as steering you to (or away from) an area based upon that criteria is a blatant violation and could result in your agent and their brokerage losing their real estate licenses and/or paying hefty fines. You will need to determine the geographic area you want to be in and your Realtor® can help you find homes within that area. If you are interested in living near people of the same religion consider attending a local house of worship and chatting with other attendees. If you would like to be in a particular ethnic community you’ll need to identify the area and ask your Realtor to show you houses there. Perhaps visiting restaurants and grocery stores that cater to people of that ethnicity will help you. And if it is important to you to live among people of a similar political mindset you can look at voter registration records or speak with representatives of local political parties to identify those areas.
While these tips may be helpful nothing is more effective than talking to local residents. If you are able to spend some time in public gathering spots such as parks, playgrounds or coffee shops you can strike up conversations with neighbors. Tell them you are considering buying a home nearby and chances are you will get an insider’s perspective of living in that community – the good, the bad and the ugly – that will help you more than any data or Realtor® can.
Julie Bentley, a St. Johns FL Realtor®, has been helping families who are relocating to St Johns, FL since 2011. Her customers have moved from places as far away as Hawaii, Israel and Australia and many knew very little about the area before beginning their home search. Julie has been able to help these families get all of the info they want without violating the Fair Housing Act.