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What I Won’t Tell You (and Why)

Did you ever wonder why real estate agents seem to “beat around the bush” when a home buyer asks questions about the neighbors or schools?

This is the topic addressed in an article on MSN’s homepage several months ago, and I opened it with the expectation of reading yet another attack on professional real estate agents. As it turns out, the article gave a relatively fair and honest analysis:

“Fair-housing laws prevent agents from talking about neighborhood demographics, and they often don’t want to discuss other details, such as crime stats. Luckily, the Web picks up where agents leave off.”

Who lives next door?The fact is that your agent probably DOES know “who” lives in the neighborhood – the demographic mix, crime statistics, and the reputation of the schools – especially if they live in the area or list and sell a lot of homes there.  Candidly answering the question, however, could get an agent and their broker in a lot of trouble, especially if the individual asking about these details happens to be a “tester” looking for fair housing violations.

As the article indicates, agents are forbidden from giving information that could be interpreted as “steering,” i.e. directing a client toward or away from a particular property in a discriminatory manner. 

Ten years ago, I would have suggested to a customer or client that they return to the neighborhood after our appointment to talk with residents and visit local schools, shopping and recreation facilities. Today, with almost everyone having access to the Internet, I suggest they simply go online for answers to their questions.

When it comes to Fair LENDING Laws (as opposed to Fair HOUSING Laws), consumers have another resource for learning about their rights.  The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced last week they are offering a public service announcement (PSA) on this topic that is running in movie theatres around the country, including the Regal Bowie Crossing 14 (5200 Major Lansdale Blvd Bowie MD 207160), through July 25.  Additionally, they’re conducting a national ad campaign and holding a series of town hall forums in the top 12 cities for home foreclosure, including Washington, D.C.

For more information, visit the HUD website


Before you buy real estate, it is important to be familiar and comfortable with the neighborhood and broader community, as well as the home itself. So don’t hesitate to ask questions because your real estate agent may suggest additional helpful websites. Yet it’s still not a bad idea to do your research the old-fashioned way: make a personal visit to the neighborhood to become better acquainted with your prospective neighbors, schools, shopping, and recreation facilities BEFORE you buy a home.

And please understand that real estate agents are not trying to be coy when they don’t give you a straightforward answer to your questions. They are trying to follow the law.

 Image:  Istockphoto

Copyright 2008.  Margaret Woda.  All rights reserved.  “What I Won’t Tell You and Why”

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