Why are agents reluctant to talk about crime, safety, and schools? That’s easy. Safety and good schools are hard to measure objectively. They are matters of personal choice. One person’s “safe enough” is somebody else’s idea of scary. Weston public schools are considered the best on many lists, but many parents in Weston send their children to private school.
What is an agent’s job in regard to subjective information? Many agents provide objective information about schools and crime. Some provide contacts to former clients who can speak about their experiences in a neighborhood or at a school. But the decision to buy depends on the comfort level of the buyer. Unfortunately, comfort levels can run along race and ethnic lines.
Agents are legally required not to steer their clients. Steering is the practice of coaxing consumers into segregated neighborhoods by choosing to talk up an area to one type of person and insult it to another. The practice was commonplace until fair housing rules came into place and enough agents behaved for fear of being caught…OK, that was blunt. Not all agents behave because they think they will be caught. In fact, if I ran the world, enforcement would be better than it is; most agents don’t much fear being caught because there’s not much testing. But even the most liberal, non-racist agent has had it drummed in that subjective opinion is risky. My insurance company sent me this example of someone in trouble last year.
Agents who go out of their way to be dumb about schools and crime are just being dumb. Last month, I hit a nerve when I told the story about a house for sale that had a sex offender next door. This brought on a highly charged conversation about data regarding sex offenders and questions of crime, in general. At that time Jj24 complained that his second agent told him nothing about the schools. It sounds like he would have settled for some news articles, but the agent was just being dim. He liked his Midwestern agent, the straight shooter, who told him what sections of town he should live in:
Rona — are there laws in MA about what agents *can’t* tell their clients? When we bought I first house in the Midwest, back when information was nowhere near as readily available online as it is today, one of the things that I really liked about our agent was that she was a very straight shooter. When my husband and I inquired about looking at houses in a certain section of town she nipped that in the bud and told us we wouldn’t want to be over there (and she was right). However, when we bought our house in CT our agent seemed to be very “by the book” and I vaguely recalled her saying something to the effect of not being “allowed” to share her opinions about certain schools, etc. Since we were moving across the country and didn’t know much about the area, and she lived here her whole life and was an expert on the area, it actually would have been helpful to have some advice and not simply a reiteration of the facts (i.e. “the school is having a lot of budget problems and has been in the news, let me pull some articles for you” as opposed to “yes, there is a school there.” )
jj24’s agent in the Midwest told him what sections of town are right for them. If this advice ran along race and ethnic lines, that agent was wrong both morally and legally. Yet, the buyer appreciated it. What should an agent tell prospective buyers?
Posted by Rona Fischman, The Boston Globe
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