With the Rochester real estate market flying past expected numbers, the housing marketing is booming. Homes hardly stay on the market for two weeks before having buyers pit themselves against each other in a bidding war. With information needed more quickly and more concisely, many first-time homebuyers are turning to real estate agents to help them with their process. First and foremost, buyers should be prepared to come to their realtor with questions about homes they are interested in. However, many may not know that some common questions asked by first time buyers can’t legally be answered by their realtor.
According to the Fair Housing Act of the Civil Rights Act (and subsequent similar regulations), there are a few things first-time homebuyers can’t receive an answer for. In quite specific terms, the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of dwellings, and in other house-related transactions, based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability. What this boils down to is a home purchase decision should be based on the fair market value of the real estate and not on a buyer or seller’s race, ethnicity, religion, economic class, and so on.
While not many would expect their current realtor of discriminating against possible or current residents of a particular neighborhood, the Fair Housing Act creates some interesting legalese for a real estate agent to work around. There are, in fact, many things your real estate agent may or may not be able to tell you in order to comply with anti-discriminatory regulations. Here are a few frequently asked questions to steer clear of.
Is this neighborhood upscale?
This question may seem quite obviously off limits, but a surprising number of buyers feel it an important question to ask. The Fair Housing Act, although not explicitly worded to target discrimination against socio-economic classes, does protect against discrimination against economic class. Realtors cannot be perceived as “steering” buyers into purchasing homes, as that action would be considered discrimination against the majority population in a particular neighborhood. Therefore, answering questions concerning the “feel” of a neighborhood would be prohibited.
Is this neighborhood safe?
As with the upscale question, answering this question might be considered steering and would therefore be declined to answer. A lot of homebuyers see this as a fair question when looking at a potential home to purchase. Fortunately, there are ways to access this information on your own. Most realtors would recommend you do your own research into the crime statistics of the neighborhood. Crime information is free and available to the public with little effort on a computer. Another avenue of investigations would be to visit the neighborhood at multiple times of the day. Drive by the house first thing in the morning, over your lunch break, after work, or even at 10pm before you go to bed. Realtors suggest this is an easy way for homebuyers to get a feel of the neighborhood without having to ask any discriminatory questions.
Is there a church community in the area?
This question completely comes down to the wording. A realtor cannot discuss the religious affiliations of a community. However, a realtor might disclose the location of differing houses of worship nearby, or direct a potential buyer to online resources with the same information.
What are the schools like in this neighborhood?
Along with the questions pertaining to the neighborhood “feel,” this question can begin to touch on some sensitive topics. As sharing school system information could lead to assumptions of the economic or ethnic population in the area, realtors would stray away from giving any answer directly. However, a good realtor might direct you to several easily accessible school ranking websites that have information on everything from general demographics to overall student performance.
Are there any kids in this neighborhood?
A seemingly innocent question, most realtors have to skirt around providing a direct answer. The Fair Housing Act, among other things, prohibits the discrimination against children and pregnant women by using the “familial status” language in the regulation. Although
first-time buyers may mean well, usually inquiring about what playmates their future children might have, the questions is off limits. Discrimination against children or pregnant women is quite clearly prohibited, and although buyers often have good intentions, it is not up to the realtor to infer what you will do with the information they share.
Are there any environmental concerns that I should be award of in the area?
Although realtors are required to disclose information they have knowledge of regarding the specific property, they are not required to communicate environmental concerns in the larger community. In fact, communicating these larger environmental concerns could again be perceived as “leading” a buyer towards or away from a particular area, and is not in compliance with the Fair Housing Act. As with the other questions mentioned, this information might be easily found online, through your local government offices, or even the local paper.
As with all-important decisions, buying a home for first time can be a daunting process. A real estate agent can be a huge asset as you begin your search. A successful agent will guide you in finding your own answers and empowering you to make a thought-out and accurate decision while abiding by the laws of the land. Good luck house hunting!