What Your Real Estate Agent Won’t Tell You

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When you’re shopping for a new home, not all questions about the property are treated equally. Any questions about the physical attributes and amenities are likely to receive a quick response, but questions about the neighborhood or the schools are likely to receive a perfunctory and non-committal reply at best.

What’s up with that? According to the National Association of Realtors website, Realtor.com, it’s the sign of a savvy real estate agent. It is a violation of the federal Fair Housing Act to discriminate in a real estate transaction on the basis of race, religion, sex, or family and economic status, and your agent is demonstrating an awareness of that law.

That does not mean that there are no answers to some questions, but it does mean that buyers will have to do the legwork themselves.

Here are four questions that rarely get a response from you real estate agent.

1. Is this a good place to raise a family?
If an agent admits a certain area is not all that family-friendly, “it could imply that families with kids aren’t welcome.” Or, on the flip side, “if the agent says that the neighborhood is a good place for kids, that could be interpreted as saying households without kids aren’t welcome, which is another form of discrimination.”

2. What’s the neighborhood like?
Your agent, however, will almost certainly not go there, particularly when it comes to race, because such discussions come uncomfortably close to “redlining”—a form of discrimination in which home buyers are steered toward or away from neighborhoods based on the color of their skin.

3. Is this area safe?
Let’s say that there used to be gang violence on a nearby block that’s getting better. You might appreciate knowing this, but such comments could be construed as racist or classist by steering you toward or away from a particular neighborhood, which is why prudent agents keep their lips zipped.

4. How are the schools here?
[Real estate agents have] to be careful not to let their answer be construed as a coded message about race.

For information on the neighborhood, including whether or not it is “family-friendly,” the U.S. Census Bureau has more data than you’ll ever need. There are websites and mobile apps that provide crime statistics and information on schools. See realtor.com for details.