Fair-housing laws prevent real estate agents from talking about neighborhood demographics, but savvy agents know where to direct their clients to find those answers. A real estate agent can provide plenty of useful information about a home, but it can seem like they fall short when it comes to the neighborhood. Homebuyers might be surprised when agents deflect questions, instead directing a client to the internet or another source of local information. This tactic is not a sign that your agent doesn’t know the neighborhood, but rather shows the agent’s dedication to upholding the law.
“The Realtor will be the one that has the most contact from beginning to end. Because of that accessibility, the consumer feels that they can give them all the information that they need,” said Alex Chaparro, the president of the Chicago Association of Realtors.
However, there are some pieces of information that an agent simply can’t discuss due to fair-housing laws, including demographic statistics. Unfortunately, additional information such as school districts and crime-rates can lead right back to that dangerous territory.
“Steering,” or directing a client toward or away from a particular property for any reason that could be deemer discriminatory is a big no-no. However, it is obvious that knowing this information will make or break a decision to buy. The quality of school systems, for example, has long been of importance to home-buying families. Fortunately, there are a variety of sources buyers can use to get at the information on their own.
Even if an agent is willing to share some information on this topic, prospective buyers can find a bounty of additional information from the following sources.
The National Center for Education Statistics Web site provides information on school demographics. Simply click on the “School, College, & Library Search” tab at the top in order to view data including a particular school’s student-to-teacher ratio or enrollment by race and ethnicity.
For an overview of academic performance school comparisons, a prospective homeowner might browse the School Matters Web site.
Another site, GreatSchools, offers similar tools that can be used to compare schools and learn about district-specific opportunities.
Sex Offenders and Crime
Roddel’s Family Watchdog Web site provides a way for users to enter a street address and view a map of the area that plots out where sex offenders live. Information is updated at least once a day and is culled from official state registries.
The CEO of Family Watchdog hopes to create another resource for individuals who would like to view similar information on other neighborhood crimes. In Chicago, there already is such a site: EveryBlock.com, which allows visitors to search for crimes by city block.
Team McMurray always recommends that potential homebuyers visit the areas they are interested in at different times of the day to get a better impression of the neighborhood.
National Association of Realtors advises agents not to make judgment calls on the health of an area and to leave that to experts.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Web site has a tool that allows visitors to search a community by ZIP code for environmental facts about the area, including pollution statistics, the location of hazardous-waste sites and information about the area’s watershed.
Another site dedicated to helping the public retrieve information about local environmental health is Scorecard, which generates a pollution report card at the county level, giving information on such topics as air and water quality.
Fair-housing laws forbid issues of race or ethnicity to be a consideration in the minds of real estate agents, to avoid steering.
Team McMurray suggests searching the U.S. Census Bureau’s Web site for statistics about an area’s demographics; the bureau’ Quick Facts page breaks down the information easily, by city and county.
Today, homebuyers are lucky to have access to knowledgeable agents and the plethora of additional information available on the web. If your agent can’t answer a question, he or she can usually direct you to a website that will provide the answer.
Team McMurray strives to ensure that our homebuyers have access to all of the best neighborhood information. Each homebuyer we work with is provided with a resource sheet detailing the above websites and more. For a copy of this resource sheet, please reach out to a team member who can further assist you.