Buying a house is a complex process. As a buyer, you understandably expect your real estate agent to provide you all sorts of information. Agents want to be helpful, but they can’t answer certain questions because doing so could violate fair housing laws. But no worries — you can find the information you want on your own. Here’s our guide to the topics agents must avoid.
Fair housing laws
State and federal laws prohibit discrimination in housing rentals or sales transactions. Agents must avoid answering questions that could lead to stereotyping on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, sex, disability or family status. Specifically, agents must avoid the following sorts of questions.
- What kind of people live in the neighborhood? Asking your agent to describe a neighborhood’s residents exposes her to potential liability under fair housing laws. But you can get the answers you seek by spending time in the area.
- Is the neighborhood good for families? Demographic shifts in recent years have left Americans with varying views on what constitutes family. Asking your agent if a neighborhood is good for raising a family invites an opinion that could cause you to view a seller negatively, thus violating fair housing laws. You can get this information yourself by taking a good look at the neighborhood. Do the area’s parks have play equipment? Is there a school in the area? Do you see couples, children or singles at neighborhood businesses?
- Are there good schools in the community? Agents can cite official public rankings of schools. But if an agent describes schools, a buyer could take this information as a comment on an area’s racial and economic makeup. This could violate fair housing laws, so do some online research to form your own opinion about a neighborhood’s schools.
- Is the neighborhood safe? Since an opinion on safety is subjective, fair housing laws prohibit agents answering these questions. You can draw your own conclusions about the safety of a neighborhood by researching online crime reporting sites or talking to local law enforcement agencies.
- Are there houses of worship nearby? Your agent risks violating fair housing laws by getting into this topic. Rather than asking him, research online to find a house of worship that appeals to you and ask to see properties in the surrounding neighborhood.