How to Respond to Questions about Schools & Neighborhoods?

A buyer asks you to show them houses in a “kid friendly, safe neighborhood with good schools“. Answer that question without much thought, and you could get in some hot water.  First, the question is very subjective… what’s “good”, in the buyer’s opinion?  Only they can answer that.  What happens if you accept that description as is and show houses in areas you THINK meet that criteria (are you checking school test scores? Crime records? Sex offender registration lists? etc…). You find yourself uncomfortable ‘steering’ a buyer, yet know they need your help making an informed decision.  Solution:  Provide buyers with great information and tools so THEY CAN JUDGE what parts of the city/town are most appealIng to them. Talking to MAR Legal Counsel Ashley Stolba about this question, she advised REALTORS should, “always be the source of the source.”  Some suggestions:

  1. Show them around and/or suggest that they spend time in different parts of town – ask them to drive through, stop for coffee, go to the park, and explore to get a feel for the different areas.  Check out the retail shops, restaurants, dry cleaners, etc.. in neighborhood hubs. Suggest that they check out different areas during the day, on the weekend and at night.   For those not born and raised in the city/town, a lot can be learned by just experiencing the different area vibes and talking to people who do live there.  They call it house hunting for a reason!
  2. Ask your buyers to identify what makes a perfect location for a home’s setting. Is it a short walk to town, a private fenced yard, next to a fire station, near a dog park, playground or what? Specific features are very easy for you to help them identify when pointing out property assets.
  3. Share with your buyers information on the schools in the district, and the options available to residents.  BE SURE OF YOUR INFORMATION and supply a credible source for obtaining more information.  We’ve had multiple calls from school representatives who were unhappy with the way a REALTOR portrayed their school and upset when a REALTOR gave incorrect information on school choice options.  A great deal of information can be found right on Berkshire Lifestyle Section  complied from National Center for Education Statistics, Maponics, and GreatSchools. This site has demographic information for each town, school data- including test scores by grade and parent reviews, crime rates, and other public record data. Anyone can also get purely statistical reporting on our schools including MCAS Scores, Teacher Student Ratios, etc, directly from the source, the Mass Department of Education for a school-by-school report:
  4. Let the buyer’s know that crime data is public information.  For example, bigger towns, like Pittsfield, has an online Crime data map that buyers can use in their research. Share the Sex offender registry flyer we’ve created that explains how they can access those lists.  Put the buyers in the driver seat in determining what is most important to them in the research process.

As Ashley Stobla went on to say, “You never want to hear a client say:  “My REALTOR told me that neighborhood/school is ____”. {YIKES!}.  REALTORS don’t offer their own opinion on the how good a sewer line is – you refer them to the sources that they can contact to investigate further – same with schools, neighborhoods, or safety.   You want them to say, My REALTOR told me where to find more information about ______!

The Fair Housing Act, a federal anti-discrimination law established in 1968, prohibits discrimination in housing-related transactions on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability and familial status.  Many agents hesitate to discuss neighborhood demographics, particularly those that even graze the topic of race or family status, out of fear of violating these rules.  You can serve your clients fully and uphold all of the ideals of the fair housing law – by giving the buyers great ways to connect with communities and research the potential home of their dreams.