The Fair Housing Act was implemented in 1968 in an effort by Congress to end housing discrimination based on factors such as race, religion, sex, disability, and more. The details of this act directly impact the information real estate agents are legally permitted to provide to clients. If you're looking to buy or sell a home in the near future, then it's important to understand what your real estate agent can talk about versus what you may have to research on your own.
What a Real Estate Agent Can't Tell You
In simplest terms, a real estate agent typically cannot speak about the makeup of a particular neighborhood as it relates to its people. That's because providing an opinion or information on a community's residents can be discriminatory, even though this was not the intention.
Neighborhood Crime Rates: Specifically, if you ask a real estate agent about neighborhood crime rates or even whether or not a particular neighborhood is a “good place to live,” they won't be able to give you an answer. This is because information about crime rates or the opinions on the safety of a neighborhood can be interpreted as references to race or ethnicity, both of which are protected under the Fair Housing Act. Instead of providing you with direct information on a community's crime rates, a real estate agent should refer you to the proper resources to find out these statistics for yourself.
School District Reputation: The same concept applies to providing information on a school district's reputations or ratings, as these can also be interpreted as references to protected classes under the Fair Housing Act. If you wish to look for a home in a particular school district, you will most likely need to spell out those parameters (such as specific streets and intersection boundaries) to your real estate agent in order for them to help you. Remember that you can always find information on school districts and their quality ratings online with a little research.
Demographic Makeup: The demographic makeup of a community is another piece of information your real estate agent cannot legally share with you due to protections put in place by the Fair Housing Act. However, taking a look at the U.S. Census and other data provided by your local government can be a good way to find out this kind of information.
What a Real Estate Agent Can Tell You
While real estate agents can't speak about the people who live in a particular neighborhood, they can provide information and opinions on real estate values and physical aspects of the location itself. In fact, these are just a few of the main benefits of working with a real estate agent in the first place.
Home Value: Based on recent sale prices of nearby homes and current market information, your real estate agent absolutely can (and should) provide you with an opinion on a home's listing price. This is the best way to make sure the hole you or buying or selling is a reasonable price.
Community Features: Your real estate agent is also free to disclose information about a neighborhood's physical features, such as local amenities (parks, walking trails, etc.) and even news on upcoming road construction that could affect your decision.
While there is quite a bit of information that your real estate agent cannot disclose because of fair housing laws, they can often provide resources with which to do the research yourself, and some data can be found online or through a local government agency relatively easily. Meanwhile, your agent is doing their job of preventing housing discrimination.
This post was written and submitted by Gary Ashton of the Ashton Real Estate Group. His team can be reached at (615) 301- 1650 or http://www.garyashton.com.