To understand a real estate agent’s scope of duties and what an agent and can and cannot do for you, look first to federal and state regulations. Here are a few of the entities that govern or affect a real estate agent’s actions:
- Federal Fair Housing Act
- State Real Estate Laws
- National Association of Realtor’s Code of Ethics
- Employing Broker’s Guidelines
Probably the most important is the Fair Housing Act. Basically, it was designed to prevent discrimination. Fair Housing Act legislation was contained in the Civil Rights Act of 1968 and modified by the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988. There are seven classes protected by the Fair Housing Act. They are:
- National Origin
- Familial Status
Expectations for Neighborhoods Populated by Protected Classes
It comes as a shock to many people when they learn that a real estate agent absolutely cannot address some requests because it is against the law. For example, if a newly married Jewish couple asks a real estate agent to find them a home close to a synagogue in an “adults only” community, the agent can’t accommodate that request. Nor can the agent take into consideration the request to be located near any specific church. The agent can’t so much as advertise that her listing is around the corner from a parish.
An agent cannot answer questions about the ethnic make-up of a neighborhood. For example, buyers should not expect an agent to show homes in neighborhoods comprised of primarily Latinos, African-Americans, American Indians or any other ethnicity or race. If a buyer was adamant and said, “Tony said I need to buy in an Italian neighborhood or else,” the agent must refuse, regardless.
Discrimination in Listing Advertising
In advertising, agents must refrain from using words deemed to represent any protected classes. For example, none of these words is appropriate and many of them could violate Fair Housing laws. Do not ask your agent to use these words:
- Bachelor apartment
- Mother-in-Law quarters
- Singles Only
- Gentleman’s Farm
- Golden Agers
- Section 8
- Children Welcome
There is a lot of info that I would like from a realtor before buying a home.
For instance, I’d like to know about crime statistics. I’d like to know about the quality of schools. I’d like to know about the racial and religious make-up of the community. What are average incomes? What is the environment like? Are there any concerns?
Well, all these perfectly valid questions can not be answered by a realtor. It is against the law. What law? The Fair Housing Act.
How could such a beautiful sounding act be so restrictive of free speech? This is crazy. This is why I’m libertarian-conservative.
I’d prefer the government butt out of these discussions.
It is a good thing that National Review columnist John Derbyshire is not a realtor.
Household income: Wondering if a neighborhood is considered upscale? Don’t bother asking your agent. Klein says he can’t discuss economic class with prospective buyers.
But it’s relatively easy to find demographic information online, including average household income for a particular area. At Neighborhood Scout, for example, you can get a description of a neighborhood’s “look, feel and character” that includes information about residents’ age, income level, ethnicity and other factors.
Schools: As with income level, sharing information about schools “might be perceived as steering someone into a certain neighborhood,” says Klein. “However, as a Realtor I can direct people to sources of information about education in that area.”
Here, too, the web offers prospective home buyers a wealth of information. Buyers can find useful school statistics, including enrollment, class size, and reading and math scores, at sites like School Matters and Great Schools.
Religion: The religious makeup of a neighborhood is another topic that’s off-limits for real estate agents to discuss. If a buyer wants to find out about active religious communities in a particular neighborhood, Klein directs them to local houses of worship for information.
Crime statistics: Surely an agent can answer questions about local crime statistics, right? That’s pretty public information. But it turns out that even this data is considered a sensitive topic under the Fair Housing Act.
Once again, buyers have to do their own research to find out if a certain neighborhood is considered safe. Homebuyers can find crime statistics online, including where sex offenders live, by logging onto Family Watchdog.