It can be very frustrating when you ask your real estate agent questions about the neighborhood of the home you’re eyeballing and you’re met with a vague, tight-lipped response.
Quickly, you become neurotic. Why is my real estate agent not being open with me and giving me a full neighborhood report? Maybe my problem is not as vital to him/her as it is to me and he/she doesn’t give two whits about me or my family’s future!
Hey, relax. It’s not like that.
As much as your real estate agent wishes he could give you their full neighborhood report with their real thoughts, and even factual information concerning the area… they legally can’t!
Here’s the thing: the government wants to make sure that all decisions when you buy a house were based on the property’s fair market value, and not on factors like religion, race, and ethnicity of the neighborhood’s inhabitants. It’s part of the 1968 Fair Housing Act’s directives; all extracts of people should have equal access to housing. So no real estate agent can influence homeowners to or away from any neighborhood by way of discrimination of race, religion, country of origin and special needs of its population.
The only language a real estate agent can use when defining areas is zip codes. The only factor to categorize the home area is its square footage.
What is the agent allowed to tell me, then?, you ask.
Anything related to the home itself. How many stories, the square footage, amenities, flooring… nothing related to the state of the neighborhood.
How to research an area before buying a house
But curiosity killed the cat, and you don’t want to die yourself, right? Plus, while race, religion, and economical power are indeed discriminating factors, there are others that real estate agents aren’t allowed to talk about because they end up touching race, religion and economical power.
They are: information about schools, criminal activity, and environmental conditions.
We feel that most of the time questions about schools, crime and environmental conditions have no malice to them. For instance: you ask your agent about the best school districts for today and he can’t tell you because (sometimes) by doing so he’ll automatically disclose the economic class of the neighborhood, which violates the Fair Housing Act. But you want to move your kid to a place with a good school, right? And how is it fair moving to a place that’s less safe than your former home? You were looking for an improvement, and now, ok, the house is bigger, but you can’t leave it, because the streets are so dangerous… So, here are some tips on how to research an area before buying a house:
- Ask the residents. Well, that’s the basic. Might even be more efficient than asking a real estate agent, as the residents really do live in that area, their children really are enrolled at the school district. They are the best ones to give you the neighborhood report, because agents read data and data can’t read emotions and process ironic details. For instance: a millionaire house in the middle of regular income homes (and other factors) might make what it should be an ordinary school district become one of the best school districts around. Or maybe the crime stats were spiked because of a crime spree of a gang that got caught and before and after that, the neighborhood was really peaceful? Just remember that talking with the Home Seller is worthless; he wants to sell the house, so chances are he’ll say that everything is perfect and the area has no problems.
- Drive by. If you’re shy, or you don’t have time to establish all these relationships – or even if no one wanted to tell you any info – get your car and slowly drive by the neighborhood with an open eye to all the details. Take a look to see how it is to live in that neighborhood.
- Spend a day or two. Sit someplace where people stay for a while and chit-chat. Just by listening you will probably figure out the safety issue, for once. That sort of subject always come up.
- Browse the internet. Neighborhood Scout gives you a sort of a neighborhood report with a description of the area’s “look, feel and character” that includes data about residents’ ages, income levels, ethnicity and other factors.” Also, consider using a site like Family Watchdog to discern whether your future home purchase is in an area with low crime rates. For environment issues, because it’s known that the place where you live affect your health, head on to the EPA’s website to determine how your home location may impact your health, or if there are any environmental initiatives scheduled to kick off in the near future. Plus, of course, social media is your best friend. There are countless local groups on facebook, reddit and other websites where you can ask locals without having to meet them face-to-face. Or, even better, someone might have already asked your exact questions and made their own personal neighborhood reports! Just remember with each case is just one point of view. Don’t take it at face value. You will only get close to the truth with the repeated occurrence of an opinion.
But, rest assured, the truth is that a good real estate agent will have all of those very common worries regarding the safety of the area, best school districts and environmental aspects in his/her thoughts without you even mentioning. If he/she is showing you a house, it’s because he/she has previously analyzed all of that beforehand to give you a great viable option. The true goal of a real estate agent is to make their clients happy, so no good professional wants their client experiencing buyer’s remorse later on and trashing their reputation by saying they sold them a home in a place that was horrible.