Things Your Realtor Won't Tell You

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, consumers feels that they can give them all the information that they need, however, 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. This conservative approach is often taken in order to avoid a lawsuit popping up in response to frank neighborhood talk. Agents are forbidden from giving any information that could be considered œsteering, directing a client toward or away from a particular property in a discriminatory manner.

Some of this information could likely 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 this information.

Checking on the schools

Unless a realty agent has hard data at his or her fingertips, the agent may decline to answer school-district questions. And even if they are willing to share some information, a home buyer might want to do some fact-finding ” or maybe even complete the research before deciding which neighborhoods to consider in the first place.

A national database of school demographic information can be found on the National Center for Education Statistics Web site. Click on the œSchool, College and Library Search tab at the top in order to view data including a particular school™s student-to-teacher ratio or enrollment by race and ethnicity. Visit the National Center’s  site.

For a snapshot of academic performance and to compare schools, a prospective homeowner might browse the School Matters Web site, a service of Standard & Poor™s. Visit School Matters.

Another site, Great Schools, offers similar tools. Visit Great Schools.

œPeople who are really attracted to (School Matters) are people who are moving, said Susan Shafer, director of marketing and communications for Standard & Poor™s School Evaluation Services. œIt™s a good starting point, she said, but it still isn™t a substitute for an actual tour.

Of course, some districts and state departments also post information online. It might be worthwhile to look at an individual school district™s site, especially for large systems.

Crime matters

Roddel™s Family Watchdog Web site allows users to enter a street address, which pulls up a map of the area that plots out where sex offenders live. Click on one of the squares that indicate an offender™s home, and often an address and a photo are available to view. Information is updated at least once a day, and is culled from state registries.

The idea for the site came about a year an a half ago, after 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford was assaulted and killed by a convicted sex offender in Central Florida in 2005.

Roddel hopes to create another tool that will help people learn about other neighborhood crimes. For now, he suggests that people scout out the neighborhood the old-fashioned way.Talk to the police department and see if they™ve got any statistics. If you™re in a city that has a department of public safety, see if you can get some information, Roddel said.

Judging the environment

Another issue that comes up occasionally in a housing search is the environmental characteristics of a neighborhood. The association typically advises members not to make judgment calls on the health of an area, and to leave that to experts.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Web site has a tool that allows visitors to search a community by ZIP code for environmental facts about the area, including pollution statistics, the location of hazardous waste sites and information about the area™s watershed. Visit the Environmental Protection Agency Web Site.

Another site dedicated to helping the public retrieve information about local environmental health is Scorecard.org, which generates a pollution report card at the county level, giving information on such topics as air and water quality. Visit Scorecard.org.

Learning the demographics

If agents don™t shy away from any other question, they most likely will when it comes to those regarding demographics ” and for good reason. Fair housing laws forbid issues of race or ethnicity to be a consideration in the minds of real estate agents, who must not steer a client toward or away from a particular area based on the neighborhood™s makeup.

I suggest searching the Census Web Site for statistics about an area™s demographics; the Census™ Quick Facts page breaks down the information easily, by city and county. Visit the Census Web  Site. This will also show general socioeconomic data.

Walking the neighborhood

Finally, even though there™s a wealth of information online, there are some questions best answered by walking around the area and making a note of observations.

For example, in Downtown Columbus, sometimes a client will ask what parking is like on a particular block. If the showing is at 10 a.m. in the morning, when many cars are off the street because their owners are at work,  unless your Realtor lives on this block they  may not have an answer to give you.

Several trips past the home at various points of the day ” noting whether there are special parking restrictions marked on the street ” will probably provide a more informed answer.

Additional sites:

Family Watch Dog – National Sex Offender List

Escorn – Ohio Sex Offender List

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