Have you ever asked a real estate agent a question that they refused to answer? Did they keep changing the subject or flat out refuse to give a simple yes or no? Many people have run into this issue with agents, and it may not be the agent's fault. As a real estate agent and broker, I know firsthand that one of the toughest things for a real estate agent to do is try to answer questions they are legally not supposed to answer.
Why can't real estate agents answer questions?
Real estate agents must abide by fair housing laws. These laws were put in place to stop discrimination and steering. Federal fair housing laws prevent agents from providing information that could be perceived as discriminatory in any way. This includes information on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability or familial status (kids, no kids, married, single, etc.).
Why can't real estate agents talk about how good a neighborhood is?
The following is a common question: “Why can't my agent tell me if this neighborhood is any good? We are moving from two states away and have no idea where the good neighborhoods are.”
The problem is that a “good” neighborhood means something different to everyone. I may have a different opinion of what a good neighborhood is than my client who I am showing properties to. I might like houses with big yards, open space and neighbors who I don't have to talk to if I don't want to.
What I like is not what everyone else likes. If I try to convince every client I have that my neighborhood is the best, it is considered “steering.” The problem is that if I steer every client into that neighborhood, it could raise the prices of my area and decrease the prices of other areas that I do not think are so good and will probably not even show houses in.
The real estate agent's job is not to decide for the client what a good neighborhood is but to let the client figure that out for themselves.
Why can't real estate agents talk about crime or schools?
We also do not mention schools or crime or, at least, should not. Most real estate agents have been posed questions like “Is this in a good school district?” or “Are these schools good?” My answer is always: “I don't know.” Or “I can't answer that question.”
How can a real estate agent not know where the good schools are? Well, “good” is a very subjective word. Good to me is different from what is good to someone else. My kids are in a school with a lot of extracurricular activities (i.e., sports, clubs, etc.). However, other parents might want their children in schools that focus solely on academics. Some parents might care about test scores while others may want their children in the same school as their cousins or teachers they may know.
It is not my job to tell other people what school is best for their children.
The same goes for crime. Crime rates are different on every site you check and are relative to whatever you are comparing them to. I never say if an area has high crime or anything in that realm.
How can people find out what a good area is if the agent won't tell them?
First, many agents try to tiptoe around the issues or change the subject when they are asked a question they cannot answer. I like to be straight up with people. If someone asks me something that I cannot legally answer, I tell them I cannot legally answer that as a real estate agent and then tell them why. It works so much better than avoiding the questions and making the clients wonder if I have no clue what I am doing or if I'm hard of hearing.
Just because I cannot offer my opinion on many of these matters, it does not mean I cannot help people find the answers. If someone wants to know if an area has a high crime rate, I can tell them they can look up the stats online or call the police department.
If someone wants to know if this is a good neighborhood, I suggest they drive around it in the evening or on the weekends, talk to neighbors or, again, speak to the police.
If someone wants to know where the good schools are, I point them to the internet again and suggest they research each school to see if that is what they are looking for. I also mention if there are many charter schools in the area so they can be sure to research them as well.
It can be tough for agents to handle these questions and for clients who want answers. It is true that some agents will talk about these things and most likely break the law in order to help their clients. Just because one agent does it, does not mean all agents do it or should do it. In all honesty, people should take time to figure out where they want to live, and what schools they like based on their research, and not depend on a real estate agent.