A real estate agent can lead you in the right direction to your next home, but there are many things that they can't tell you that you may not be aware of. Redfin real estate agent David Ehrenberg told Curbed DC all the details about the ethics or lack thereof of "steering," which is when an agent might influence a buyer to a specific neighborhood based on the buyer's race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, religion or other protected status. "Unfortunately, people in the real estate profession played a big role in the past in creating and maintaining segregated communities," he said, adding, "The good news is that behavior is illegal thanks to the Fair Housing Act." The Fair Housing Act was enacted in 1967 and is meant to protect buyers or renters from seller or landlord discrimination. Because of this, real estate agents are limited in what details they can give about a neighborhood like how safe it is or whether or not the nearby schools are rated highly. Details like these are just too subjective. "Every person has a different threshold for safety, a different concept of what makes a good school or a bad school," said Ehrenberg.
"In many cases it might seem harmless for a realtor to offer his or her opinion on these topics. You may even find it frustrating that your agent can't offer a more personal opinion on the neighborhood," said Ehrenberg. In the end, though, these limitations can help protect buyers. "A real estate agent's job is to help buyers access all homes for sale that they are interested in. A real estate agent has no right to decide where someone should or should not live."
Below, you'll find Ehrenberg's input on what agents can and cannot say about two frequent questions he often hears from buyers:
Is this neighborhood good for families or young people?
· What your agent shouldn't say: This neighborhood is perfect for young families. This isn't a good area for young, single people. Only seniors and established families live here.
· What your agent can say: This neighborhood is great for all kinds of people. The homes here are very affordable compared to the median sale prices in other areas of the city. If you want to get a sense of the vibe, take a walk around the block and try to talk to some neighbors.
What do you think of the neighborhood?
· What your agent shouldn't say: You should move here because there are a lot of people like you that have been moving in. You shouldn't live in this neighborhood, it's dangerous.
· What your agent can say: Median sales prices have been on the rise in this area for several years. Homes in this area tend to sell very quickly. There has been a lot of investment in this neighborhood and a big condo project is planned right down the street. This area has good access to public transportation. This area is more car dependent. Homes here tend to be on larger lots than other areas of the city.
For buyers to get the answers to the information that real estate agents can't provide, Ehrenberg suggests using online resources. Redfin also offers buyers to search for homes by school boundaries and school ratings, while also offering information on Walk Score, BIke Score, and Transit Score.
· David Ehrenberg, Redfin Agent [Redfin]
· How to Succeed as a Real Estate Agent in Washington, D.C. [Curbed DC]
· Curbed Interviews archive [Curbed DC]