REALTOR Gail Robinson has written an excellent article that presents several items that are NOT open for discussion with your real estate agent, even though they are valid concerns that buyers have. Buyers must remember to do their own due diligence when it comes to these, and other issues.
Did you know that there are things that REALTORS can't tell you? Things you really want to know. Things that are important for making decisions about buying your new home. Here are five things your REALTOR can't tell you about buying your home...
#1 How safe the neighborhood is
As real estate agents we are not allowed to talk about crime or safety for an area. How can that be? This is one of the most important things a buyer wants to know. The reason for this is that Fair Housing Laws prohibit a licensed real estate agent from "steering" a buyer from one neighborhood to another. Real estate agents have a lot of power to decide which areas are most desirable and could potentially steer people of different protected classes into different neighborhoods. This is why the law limits us to discussion of the home itself and the property that home is on.
You will need to do your own due diligence on this issue. You can look up crime information on websites, talk to neighbors, go on community online forums, and spend some time in the neighborhood at different times of the day and week to get a feel for how safe you feel. Safety is a subjective issue, what one person finds acceptable, another person may not.
#2 Whether a home will continue to be a specific school district after you buy it
School district boundaries can change. An agent can find you a home within a certain geographic area, but cannot guarantee your home will remain in a specific school district as that is beyond their control. An agent should know the geographic area well enough to comment on whether redistricting is being considered, but it isn't something an agent will likely be held accountable for in a court of law. Most real estate agents are supposed to let you define the geographic area you want to buy a home in. You can define the area by the boundaries of the school district, but remember there is no guarantee that the boundaries will not be changed in the future.
#3 What are the neighbors are like
Fair Housing Laws prohibit real estate agents from discussing any demographic characteristics of a neighborhood. If you are buying a duplex, your next door neighbor is going to be very important to you, so meet them before you buy. Walk around the neighborhood and do your own due diligence, if this is important to you. Aside from Fair Housing Laws, your real estate agent is not likely to know the neighbors. Also remember, that neighbors can change, people move into an area and they move out.
#4 Whether the neighborhood is quiet
The home next door may be owned by rock musicians who like to jam for hours with their windows open or another neighbor may have a dog that barks loud and often. Your real estate agent may or may not know this. If the seller hasn't disclosed this and your agent hasn't been at the home at the time when the band is playing or the dog is barking, then he/she may not have noticed a problem, when there is one. This doesn't mean there isn't a problem that would bother you. Once again, noise is subject. One person might not mind the sound of a nearby highway or a train line, whereas another would be very disturbed by it. Noise conditions can also change overnight. A neighbor could become the owner of a barking dog the day before you close on your new home.
#5 Whether there are any off-site environmental issues
The fiduciary responsibilities on this issue differ state-by-state, so you will need to ask your agent whether they are required to inform buyers about environmental hazards, such as nearby landfills, hazardous waste sites, overhead power lines, or oil spills. An increasing number of successful lawsuits has expanded real estate agents' fiduciary responsibilities to include these issues in many states. In Connecticut, this responsibility can be satisfied by handing the client a list of websites they visit to do their own due diligence on the property. Do not assume that your agent must inform you of the specific issue that would affect your property. Handing you that sheet may be the exent of their responsiblity. A good real estate agent knows the area around the property and can speak knowledgeably about issues in proximity to a specific home either because they are an expert in that area or have done the proper research, but realize that not every agent has this knowledge and your state may not even hold them accountable for not knowing it.