How Would you Answer This Question?

By
Real Estate Agent with McGraw Realtors

I was doing some research for a new listing this morning when I came across the following question.  It was posted on www.city-data.com

"My family and I are relocating to the Tulsa area soon. We are searching for a home to buy in (names of communities). What neighborhoods do I need to avoid moving into in any of these places?"

 

How would you answer that question?
Think about it for a second...
Got your answer???

 

I counted at least four people who answered the question, including one appraiser.  If you are a Realtor and you chose to answer that question, you would be in violation of the Fair Housing Laws.  This person apparently had a pretty sharp Realtor.  Here's what they said about what their Realtor told them...

 

"My Realtor keeps telling me that they legally
can not disclose or persuade clients in any direction..."

 

Fair Housing Laws by Bob Haywood

The Fair Housing Laws in our country were designed
to give everybody a fair chance by prohibiting discrimination.

Did you know that Fair Housing Laws were developed
as a part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968?  Fair Housing Laws prohibit discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of dwellings, and in other housing-related transactions, based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status.

For more information on the Fair Housing Law, click here.

The primary purpose of the Fair Housing Law is to protect buyers or renters from seller or landlord discrimination.

 



What this means for those of us who are Realtors is that we cannot discuss, talk about, point out or direct people to good or bad neighborhoods. 
We have to stay neutral when clients want to know if neighborhoods are good or bad.  The reality is that this can be difficult because your client can feel as if you are protecting your own interests instead of working for them.  But a clear explanation of how you would be violating the Fair Housing law usually satisfies most people.

So the next time you come across someone online asking about good and bad neighborhoods, or if you have a client who asks, just take a pass.  It's better not to answer than to lose your license!

************************************************************************************

Information and content in this blog is original to Bob Haywood

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Contact:
Bob Haywood
Bob Haywood 

Tulsa, OK Realtor®/ McGraw Realtors 
Bob@BobHaywood.com
(918) 272-7272

Click here to check out my Greater Tulsa and Owasso website.  The premier greater Tulsa and Owasso, OK homes local informational website for your real estate needs.

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Serving the Greater Tulsa, Broken Arrow, Jenks, Glenpool, Bixby, Owasso, Sand Springs, Oologah, Coweta area communities and other surrounding areas.

Copyright © 2010 by Bob Haywood

 

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Rainmaker
401,965
Claudette Millette
Buyer, Broker - Metrowest Mass
The Buyers' Counsel

Bob:

When people are relocating to my area they want to know which towns (not neighborhoods) are better - but by certain criteria.  It is usually about the school system, resale and tax rates. Those facts are available and important in their decision making process.  I don't' think anyone would consider that a violation of fair housing.

 

February 02, 2010 06:55 AM
Ambassador
380,840
Bob Haywood
www.BobHaywood.com
McGraw Realtors

Hey Everyone, today is my wife's birthday.  We spent last night with friends celebrating so I missed most of this disuccsion.  However, I wanted to say that this is the Active Rain at it's best - good discussion and debate over the issues.  I know that Fair Housing is a concern (hot button) for Bob S right now.  And it should be for us as well.  Providing top notch services for our clients means understanding and untangling issues such as these.

February 02, 2010 07:02 AM
Rainer
4,291
Mathew Roth
Hawthorn Properties

We were discussing this in law in our office the other day.  It seems like this is antiquated rule that needs to be updated.  It should be the job of a good realtor to help find the right fit for their client, which would include having knowledge about different neighborhoods in their market. Explaining to a client that one neigborhood is better than another (say because it will hold value in down turns), should not be a violation of Fair Housing laws if my intent was not to red line or block bust etc. 

February 02, 2010 08:07 AM
Rainmaker
339,948
Gina Chirico
Real Estate Agent - Essex County, New Jersey
Lattimer Realty

Bob, WOW what a hot topic and the comments are great too!  I adhere to the fair housing law and do not steer.  With that being said and even stepping aside from fair housing for a minute.....whats good for the goose, isn't always good for the gander.  Lets talk about neighborhoods for a second, I may not want to live in a certain neighborhood due to crime, pollution, etc. but that doesn't mean you wouldn't want to live there.  I may think one town is a dump but yet I have three buyers who are looking to buy a home there before the tax credit expires. 

Again, we are prohibited from steering by law, but who are we really to tell someone where to live?  To each their own....

When asked a direct question, I do not steer or give an opinion but provide them with the source so  that they can make an educated decision on where they want to live.  That source may include demographics, crime stats, school information, household median income, etc.   Suggesting buyers drive past schools, visit the local police department, drive around the neighborhood, visit the local supermarket wouldn't be grounds for steering or would it?

February 02, 2010 08:17 AM
Rainmaker
291,273
Darrell Walters
W. Darrell Walters

I've really enjoyed reading the post and comments. I've worked with some in the industry that will shyaway at anything that remotely looks like it could be a violation and I've also worked with others that figure out how to answer them in a way that isn't a violation. It really depends on your personal preference.

February 02, 2010 08:20 AM
Ambassador
982,953
Alan May
Evanston & Northshore of Chicago real estate
Coldwell Banker Residential

Okay... this is NOT an antiquated rule that needs to be updated... it's simply a rule that many (Realtors included) don't fully understand.  Bob said "I just get the feeling that no one knows exactly where the line is", and he's right (proof offered daily on websites like Trulia and Zillow).

Yes, we are allowed to answer the question "what are the crime statistics in Evanston" by providing the printout from the Evanston Police Department, or directing them to the Evanston Police Dept's website.  Yes, we are allowed to respond to a direct question like that.  We can also respond directly to the question "what was Evanston's housing appreciation between 2005 and 2006.  Or what was their DEpreciation in 2008-09... and how does it compare to the depreciation in Wilmette for the same time period?  We are allowed to answer those questions.

What we are NOT allowed to do, is provide all of those statistics without having been asked, because that could be construed as "steering"... (meaning I show you the local crime stats for 3 communities, and I may be trying to tell you that the one with the worst stats, you shouldn't be viewing... trying to steer you away).

February 02, 2010 08:26 AM
Ambassador
380,840
Bob Haywood
www.BobHaywood.com
McGraw Realtors

Alan May - well said.

February 02, 2010 08:57 AM
Rainer
109,890
Jenna Dixon
Assoc Broker, NW Metro Atlanta
DRA Homes (Atlanta, GA)

What kind of people live in this neighborhood?  Answer: People who can afford to live here, JUST LIKE YOU.

Any more questions?

February 02, 2010 09:17 AM
Ambassador
982,953
Alan May
Evanston & Northshore of Chicago real estate
Coldwell Banker Residential

Bob S., here's an interesting article that addresses the concerns of buyers... as to why their Realtors cannot answer questions that buyers feel should be answerable.

Questions your broker (agent) can't answer.

February 02, 2010 09:36 AM
Rainer
48,817
Clark Hitchcock
Realtor - Fraser Valley
Re/Max Nyda Realty Inc

So many good answers to your post. Thanks everyone for giving some thoughts to add to my toolbox of experience.

February 02, 2010 10:54 AM
Rainmaker
516,366
Robert Hammerstein
Bergen County NJ Real Estate
Keller Williams Valley Realty

To Both Bob's - Recently this has come up to me as well. A client saw online, I wont say where, that a certain town has a higher crime rate than others. They then called the local police dept. and they told them it was a typo.. Best to just answer them with another question like Jody up top. Just my two cents

February 02, 2010 11:02 AM
Ambassador
982,953
Alan May
Evanston & Northshore of Chicago real estate
Coldwell Banker Residential

"Best to just answer them with another question"

The problem with that approach, Robert, is that the general public gets irritated with us, as they feel we're being evasive when we "dance around the question".  i'd prefer to reply (when appropriate) that "fair housing laws prevent me from directly answering your question.  But here are some resources that you can use to determine the answer to your questions".

At least that way, I've done something to answer their question, and explained, clearly and honestly, why I can't.

February 02, 2010 11:09 AM
Ambassador
1,227,160
Erica Ramus
MRE, Schuylkill County PA Real Estate
Erica Ramus - Ramus Realty Group - Pottsville, PA

Those kinds of questions appear ALL THE TIME on Trulia.com and zillow. And I just laugh when agents actually answer them!

February 02, 2010 11:48 AM
Rainer
198,415
Jeani Codrey
Jeani Codrey Referral Broker & Instructor

I am always shocked by the ways that agents will answer on public forums regarding questions of this sort.  As an agent who was visited by a tester at closing time at my office the first year I was licensed, I am careful about how I present things and answer questions.  I utilized all the knowledge I had gained in classes, by reading and from my mentors to pass the tester's questions with flying colors, I never worry about what I am saying, because I know the rules and how to present them.  Every agent should!  Good post!

February 02, 2010 12:26 PM
Rainmaker
260,985
Christianne Gordon
REALTOR e-PRO CDPE, SFR Carson Valley Real Estate Specialist
Carson Valley Homes and Land - RE/MAX Realty Affiliates

Bob H and Bob S - What a great dialogue going on here today on this post. Here in Nevada, we don't have a Megan's Law on the books but you can be darn sure I check it for my own edification every time I sell a house just to see what's going on nearby. I would not be afraid to share appreciation statistics on any particular neighborhood - I just wouldn't describe the social demographic while I did so. With regard to crime, my husband is a member of local law enforcement and I often recommend they as him! That way it didn't come from me.

February 02, 2010 02:26 PM
Staff
439,164
Bob Stewart
Community Evangelist
ActiveRain

oops, that last one was me, I was logged in helping Robin get her photo updated:

If someone asks you for crime stats for a neighborhood, where in the Fair Housing guidelines does it say you have to send them to a local police station?

I can't seem to find anything in the fair housing guidelines that says criminals are a protected class.....

February 02, 2010 02:48 PM
Rainer
80,126
Amy Law
Alliance Properties

Well, I had a bit of the opposite problem...a white woman buyer that wants to buy a lot to build on in a very old black community. Those folk HATE it when "whitey" moves in there...it really might be a dangerous situation for my buyer. I DID NOTHAVE NOT said a word. I REALLY wanted to...her friend that was with her pointed out about how bad the neighborhood is and really tried to talk her out of it. She is going ahead with the purchase anyway. I really wish she would not...but I really can not and should not say one word because of this rule. The problem runs in all different directions.

February 02, 2010 05:01 PM
Rainer
80,126
Amy Law
Alliance Properties

Well, I had a bit of the opposite problem...a white woman buyer that wants to buy a lot to build on in a very old black community. Those folk HATE it when "whitey" moves in there...it really might be a dangerous situation for my buyer. I DID NOTHAVE NOT said a word. I REALLY wanted to...her friend that was with her pointed out about how bad the neighborhood is and really tried to talk her out of it. She is going ahead with the purchase anyway. I really wish she would not...but I really can not and should not say one word because of this rule. The problem runs in all different directions.

February 02, 2010 05:01 PM
Ambassador
982,953
Alan May
Evanston & Northshore of Chicago real estate
Coldwell Banker Residential

Bob, as I mentioned before... if someone asks for crime stats, you are allowed to direct them to where they can find them.  You COULD just print them out for them... but it's better if you allow them to find them.

Criminals are not a protected class (although it sometimes feels that way), but it's not about protecting the criminals...  you can certainly send them to a website that shows if any sex offenders live in the neighbourhood... but the key is.. "answer questions"... don't suggest that if they're going to look in the Statesville neighbourhood, they might want to check the sexoffender hotline first.

It's not about protecting the criminals.. it's about being neutral about neighbourhoods... and it's better to err on the side of caution, and allow the buyer to do their own due diligence.

February 02, 2010 06:30 PM
Rainmaker
266,113
Melissa Brown
Realtor - South Charlotte NC Homes for Sale
Savvy + Co Real Estate

Ooooh...I'm not too comfortable with the conversation above in #84.  I don't care which direction the problem runs in.

February 02, 2010 07:24 PM
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