When a buyer asks a question, such as one about crime rates, a Realtor serving as their best friend in the real estate industry feels compelled to give an honest answer. But that puts you in a tenuous position because you could be violating the Fair Housing Act.
ORLANDO, Fla. – When a buyer asks a question, such as one about crime rates, a Realtor serving as their best friend in the real estate industry feels compelled to give an honest answer. However, that puts a Realtor in a tenuous position because an answer could violate the Fair Housing Act in one of two ways: It’s a clear violation if that answer seeks to “steer” buyers of one protected class into neighborhoods.
And it could also be a subtle violation if the answer an agent gives to a white client differs from the answer they give to a member of a protected class.
“The bottom line is to treat every buyer the same,” says Florida Realtors Associate General Counsel Meredith Caruso. “If ‘Drive around the neighborhood at different times of the day’ is good advice for one of your buyers, it should be advice for all of your buyers.”
Under the Fair Housing Act, protected classes are race, color, religion, national origin, sex, handicap and familial status.
In general, agents should consider themselves “the source of the source of information” for buyers. It’s generally okay to steer them toward unbiased sources that provide answers; it may not be safe to give them the answers they seek directly.
Actions that won’t violate the Fair Housing Act
1. Ask “Do you have any hobbies?” Buyers new to Orlando may have a love for Disney – or they may want to stay as far away from the tourist areas as possible. Water-lovers may want easy access to a lake or canal. Business execs may want to minimize commute time to their place of business.
2. Parents ordinarily ask about local schools, so have printed information or a website page that offers resources, such as the website of the local school district. However, your opinion of the local schools is just that – your opinion – and could violate the Fair Housing Act.
3. Offer contact information for the local police department if they ask about crime rates. And just while “This isn’t a great neighborhood,” flirts with a fair housing violation, the opposite does too. Don’t give a personal opinion on local safety even if you think it’s a great place to live.
4. If clients specifically wish to know the racial makeup of neighborhoods, direct them to the U.S. Census Bureau research page.
What do you do if a buyer gets pushy and considers “good service” the same thing as telling them things that violate the Fair Housing Act? It’s okay to be honest and say you can’t provide that information due to fair housing concerns.
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