Home buyers are certain to have questions when looking for homes and their Realtors® can be a great source for information. However, there are common questions that Realtors® cannot legally answer. Federal, state or local fair housing laws are the reason these questions can't be answered. Realtors® should be able to point their buyers in the right direction to find the answers.
Fair Housing Laws
There are federal, state and local (county and city) fair housing laws in place that prevent discrimination of any type. The Federal Fair Housing Act has seven protected classes:
* National origin
* Familial status
There are two new federally protected classes that are being considered, sexual orientation and gender identity. Most states already include these as protected classes. Many also have laws that protect age, marital status and unfavorable military discharge. On the local side, some of the county and city fair housing laws protect source of income. This means they cannot discriminate against people who are on unemployment or have housing vouchers, such as Section 8.
Is This a Good/Safe Neighborhood?
Most buyers want to know if a neighborhood if good or "safe" because they want to protect their families and home values. First of all, define "good." What's good for one buyer may not be good for another buyer. When buyers ask this, sometimes they are innocently referring to whether or not residents keep their lawns manicured nicely or take care of their homes. They may want to know if the neighbors get along, are considerate of one another and enjoy social and neighborhood events together. They may want to know if there is a lot of crime committed in this neighborhood. Unfortunately, some buyers are referring to something that could discriminate such as the color, race, age or religions of the people in the neighborhood. Realtors® cannot answer this question, but they can direct their buyers to check with the local police or search websites that indicate where crimes are committed in the area. They can also search sex offender registry websites such as fbi.gov or familywatchdog.us.
What Kind of People Live in This Neighborhood?
Realtors® cannot legally tell buyers what kind of people live in a neighborhood. First of all, they most likely don't know the exact demographics of a neighborhood. Realtors® cannot refer to neighborhoods as "a great place for single people" or "a wonderful place to raise a family" or "there are many active seniors living here." One exception would be a 55 and over community. Realtors® can tell buyers if a neighborhood or subdivision is primarily for people age 55 and over. One recommendation a Realtor® can make to buyers is to tell them to spend some time driving or walking around the neighborhood, to see if they can get an idea of whether or not the neighborhood has what they are looking for.
Will You Show Me Homes in a Neighborhood With a Greater Population of "X"?
Even if asked, Realtors® cannot practice what's called "steering." Steering refers to showing buyers areas that have certain populations in them. Many buyers want to live around people that are similar to them. Some examples of the similarities they are looking for are the language they speak, the faith they practice, the lifestyle they live and so on. Realtors® can direct buyers to census and demographic data websites so buyers can learn more about certain neighborhoods on their own.
Is This a Good School District?
Most people want to live in areas with highly rated schools because they are good for home values. However, when some buyers ask this question, it's for discriminatory reasons. The best practice is for Realtor® to direct their buyers to "school report card" websites.
Many buyers ask questions like these innocently. However, Realtors® can face penalties and fines for answering these questions. There are plenty of resources for buyers to find the answers to these questions on their own.