You know you’ve wanted to ask it when you last house hunted. That question was on the tip of your tongue with each house you walked through. The question? So is this house in a good neighborhood? If you did ask it, you know that you didn’t get an answer, or at least a straight one. There’s a reason why they didn’t tell you.
The Fair Housing Act
The most important reason is that your Realtor can’t tell you whether it is not. If they do they will be violating
the Fair Housing Act. That law, which was enacted to make sure landlords don’t discriminate based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability or family status, keeps Realtors from making statements that characterize a neighborhood as good or bad. The law actually prohibits any real estate professional from steering you, as a buyer, toward or away from a particular neighborhood if that steering is based on a basis of discrimination.
What will violate the act?
Even an innocuous comment like “this neighborhood is perfect for singles” would violate the Act. How? It would imply to people with children or older/elderly people may not stay interested in a home because they pick up on the implication that it isn’t “for them” because they aren’t a young single and the neighborhood caters to young singles. Even answering questions about crime or schools can be a problem. Someone may interpret an answer about crime statistics or bad schools as racially motivated.
So what do you, as a buyer, do?
You want to live in certain areas with similar people to your lifestyle, or you are worried about schools for your kids, but you can’t ask knowing your Realtor won’t be able to answer you? Well, you can do some of the leg work on your own.
For instance, you want to live in a neighborhood with great schools, largely Christian, conservative neighborhood. So you will need to call the local churches and political groups for their demographic information. Check with the State Board of Education for school statistics.
Then narrow to the neighborhoods that apply and go there to see if it is a good neighborhood. Talk to people who live there. Ask them questions. Go during election season and see whose signs are in which yards. People are usually rather forthcoming about where they live. Just don’t be obnoxious with your questions!
Then ask your Realtor to show you listings in those neighborhoods!