The process of buying a home can feel daunting, especially for the first time. What seems like dozens of factors can influence a buyer’s decision about a particular home, from the size of the yard to the number of bathrooms. Then there’s the general location, including the town or city itself, the feel of the neighborhood, and proximity to schools and public transportation. Liz and I pride ourselves on knowing the local neighborhoods and understanding the real estate market in and around Boston, so, we are able to answer nearly all of our buyers’ questions. Notice how I said “nearly?” Well, there are certain kinds of questions it would be unethical for us to answer; our responses may be meant with the best of intentions, but by their very nature are steeped in the complicated race and class history of America. The US Fair Housing Act of 1988 prohibits us from speaking about certain protected classes: Race, Color, Religion, Sex, Handicap, Familial Status, and National Origin.
Buyers might have questions such as:
Is this neighborhood safe?
Is this town a good place to raise a family?
I will never answer this question. Why? Let’s run through a few scenarios: If I say, “Yes, it’s a great place to raise a family,” I have just made a judgment about what that family needs and wants in order to have a good life. I have also inadvertently implied that families without kids wouldn’t fit into the neighborhood. And if I say, “No, it’s not great for families,” I have dropped a hint that the neighborhood isn’t welcoming (or safe, or nurturing) for people with children. Both of these answers violate the Fair Housing laws we must follow. Remember, back in the time of redlining, if a neighborhood were predominantly black, many real estate agents would tell white families that it was not a good place for families, and vice-versa. We recommend that our clients spend some time in the neighborhood if possible, and look up local family-friendly businesses such as YMCAs, sports programs, or a child’s particular interests.
What kind of people live here?
We love answering questions from our home buyers. It’s so exciting to help them find the right place to live. But we want this very personal and life-altering decision to be based on our clients’ own values, goals, and lifestyle without influence from us. And that’s why sometimes, no matter what, we won’t answer their questions.