Over the past few decades of selling real estate, people often ask questions I can’t answer, either because of laws preventing disclosure, or because so many of the questions are subjective and change from person to person or situation to situation. Here are some common questions your Realtor can’t tell you:
Is it a safe neighborhood?
This is probably the question I get asked most often. I can’t possibly answer that, but I can direct you to either the local police department for crime statistics, or to online sites that can give you area crime reports. Regardless of what the current status of a neighborhood is, something could happen next week that might change your comfort levels.
Is this a family-friendly neighborhood? (Or conversely – We don’t want to live near children.)
Familial Status is a protected class under local and federal laws, so it’s not legal for a Realtor to steer a client to an area that does or doesn’t have children. If you want to be in child-friendly areas, you might look at homes near schools. To qualify as a Senior Only community, there are federal guidelines that must be adhered to, and exceptions cannot be made for some families and not others.
Is this a good elementary/junior high/high school?
As with many areas of housing, “good” and “safe” and “clean” are all subjective, meaning everyone’s opinion can be different. For questions like this, statistics can be found online for certain school criteria. Once you’ve identified a home that interests you, you might also want to ask neighbors, or speak with teachers and staff at the school you’re considering.
Can you find us a Catholic neighborhood? (or Jewish, or Mormon, or hispanic, or Lebanese, etc.)
Not only is religion a protected class, but so are nationalities. A Realtor can’t possibly know what your criteria might be, nor is “steering” in any way legal. If there are specific places where you would like to live, specific neighborhoods where your friends live or where your group meets or where your church is located, then we can certainly show you homes in areas you request, but please don’t ask us to specify those neighborhoods for you.
Are there sex offenders in the neighborhood?
Megan’s Law requires convicted sex offenders to register their address with local officials. This information is available to the public. You may check the public records, or, for a nominal fee, get up-to-the-minute information from the police department in the locality of where you’re considering a move. Since all information is subject to change (and not everyone registers how they’re supposed to), if this is an area that’s important to you, make sure you’re comfortable with the information you gather.
We want you to advertise our house to single, young professionals.
Um . . . no. Besides other things, you can’t discriminate based on marital status (this is considered discriminatory against someone who is not single) and age is protected (you can’t solicit to exclude the elderly).
Will the house I’m buying go up in value?
If we had a crystal ball, we might better be able to answer that question. In 2007 when the market was hot, people thought they couldn’t lose. Then 2008 happened, and we are slowly recovering. There are too many variables – area considerations, economy (especially local), style, etc. But if you liked the house when you bought it, chances are, when it comes time to sell, someone else will like it as well, especially if it’s in good and clean condition.
Can we build a garage on the property?
Each municipality has different laws regarding setbacks and variances. If building a garage is important to you (or a shed or a separate structure or modifying the structure that currently exists), I recommend you check with your local building department to find their specifics for what you have in mind.
What’s the standard real estate commission?
THERE IS NO STANDARD REAL ESTATE COMMISSION. I can tell you what my company charges as standard practice, but commission is negotiable and I can’t speak to what any other company or agent charges.
Why do Trulia and Zillow advertise $50,000 houses on five acres that were never available?
I definitely can’t answer that question. Please stop asking.