By Amy Hoak
Steve Roddel was walking through a house in Fort Wayne, Ind., when he wondered aloud if there were any sex offenders living in the neighborhood. Instead of commenting on her own, the real estate agent showing the home quickly pulled out her cell phone, connected to its Web browser and brought up Family Watchdog, a national sex-offender registry Web site. Little did she know that she was standing with the site’s founder and CEO. Visit Family Watchdog.
A real estate agent can be a wealth of information about a house. So a home buyer who asks what crime is like in the neighborhood might be surprised when the agent defers the question, directing a client to the Web or the local police instead. “The Realtor will be the one that has the most contact from beginning to end. Because of that accessibility, the consumer feels that they can give them all the information that they need,” said Alex Chaparro, president of the Chicago Association of Realtors. But there are some pieces of information that an agent simply can’t speak about due to fair housing laws, including demographic statistics. And they often prefer to leave some characteristics, such as the quality of the school district or crime stats, answered by other sources.
The conservative approach is often taken in order to avoid a lawsuit popping up in response to frank neighborhood talk, said Ralph Holmen, associate general counsel of the National Association of Realtors. Agents are forbidden from giving any information that could be considered “steering,” directing a client toward or away from a particular property in a discriminatory manner. And some of this information will make or break a decision to buy. The quality of school systems, for example, has long been of importance to home-buying families. Luckily, there are a variety of sources buyers can use to get at the information on their own.
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