When making the biggest financial decision of their lives, many homebuyers and homesellers understandably ask their Realtor to provide a professional opinion on a range of topics. Some common questions include if adding a bathroom will boost resale value, should wallpaper be removed, if re-painting will help, how long a home has been for sale, if sellers should leave when their home is being shown, or if a home shows better when ‘staged.’ These and many other questions are typically addressed with aplomb by an experienced Realtor.
However, with other, less benign questions, agents are trained not only to be cautious, but simply refuse to answer them. Is it because the Realtor doesn’t have an opinion? Maybe, but maybe not. Often the reason is because rules don’t allow it.
Federal, State & Ethics…Oh My!
What are these rules that might cause an otherwise conversational, if not super-chatty (or at least engaging) real estate agent to go mum? They include federal laws, state regulations and the Realtor Code of Ethics. And while there are more than three topics agents are trained to be wary of, here we’ll address three examples of areas Realtors are supposed to be particularly cautious about. It helps to first understand that some of the following essentially forbidden conversations most often occur between a Realtor and clients. However, the specific topic of Question #3 below can also be especially problematic if discussed between Realtors.
Question #1 That Your Oregon Realtor Can’t Answer: “Do Many Minorities (or Other Protected Classes) Live Here?”
If there is even a hint of a question having a racial, religious, or other prohibited basis, law-abiding Oregon Realtors will not go there.
Federal Law Prohibits Real Estate Discrimination
Chief among the federal laws that limit a Realtor’s behavior in these areas is the Civil Rights Act of 1968. It prohibits:
- A refusal to sell or rent a dwelling to any person because of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
- Discrimination based on race, color, religion or national origin in the terms, conditions or privilege of the sale or rental of a dwelling.
- Advertising the sale or rental of a dwelling indicating preference of discrimination based on race, color, religion or national origin.
- Coercing, threatening, intimidating, or interfering with a person’s enjoyment or exercise of housing rights based on discriminatory reasons or retaliating against a person or organization that aids or encourages the exercise or enjoyment of fair housing rights.
Oregon Law Prohibits Real Estate Discrimination
Discrimination in Real Property Transactions-State discrimination law also prohibits a person from refusing to sell, lease, or rent any real property because of an individual´s race, color, sex (including pregnancy), sexual orientation, national origin, religion, marital status, familial status, physical or mental disability, or source of income.
The Realtor Code of Ethics Prohibits Real Estate Discrimination
Additional guidelines to assist Realtors in following laws against discrimination are incorporated in the Realtor Code of Ethics, which you can read in its entirety here. For the purposes of this discussion, here is a pertinent portion:
REALTORS® shall not deny equal professional services to any person for reasons of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity. REALTORS® shall not be parties to any plan or agreement to discriminate against a person or persons on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity. (Amended 1/14)
REALTORS®, in their real estate employment practices, shall not discriminate against any person or persons on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity. (Amended 1/14) [listen]
- Standard of Practice 10-1
When involved in the sale or lease of a residence, REALTORS® shall not volunteer information regarding the racial, religious or ethnic composition of any neighborhood nor shall they engage in any activity which may result in panic selling, however, REALTORS® may provide other demographic information.
Related to this phenomena is the concept of ‘steering,’ where a real estate agent might guide prospective homebuyers toward or away from certain homes or neighborhoods based upon forbidden criteria. This article provides six ways a Realtor can help to avoid ‘steering.‘ Just one example of a forbidden topic might be: ‘Can you find me a Catholic neighborhood? (or Jewish, or Mormon, or Hispanic, or Lebanese…)’ As seen in the above example, just as religion and race are protected classes, so are nationalities.
So what’s a buyer to do? If there are particular places where you want to reside, like specific neighborhoods where your friends currently live, or an area where your church is located, then an agent can show you homes in areas you request. Real trouble comes when asking a Realtor to specify neighborhoods for you that involve protected classes. So questions about the racial, religious, or nationality composition of a neighborhood are not something to bring up with a real estate agent.
It really helps to leave protected classes out the discussion. Instead, after doing your own research of factors that are most important to you (which may include crime as we’ll address below, or proximity to good restaurants, or parks, or a reasonable commute to work), then provide your agent with boundaries of areas where you want to focus your homesearch. There are several other terms used to define related discriminatory illegal real estate activity.
The practice of persuading owners to sell property cheaply because of the fear of people of another race or class moving into the neighborhood, and thus profiting by reselling at a higher price.
Refusing a loan or insurance to someone because they live in an area deemed to be a poor financial risk.
Question #2 That Your Oregon Realtor Can’t Answer: “Is This a Safe Neighborhood?” Real estate agents are instructed not to disclose information regarding crime and the safety of a neighborhood in part due to concerns of violating the Fair Housing Act. The following paragraph is from a Realtor article about how agents are advised to advise homebuyers on crime figures, along with a host of other topics:
‘Direct them to the police. If buyers want to get a picture of the area’s crime rate, direct them to the police department or other sources of information. Don’t disclose crime statistics or say a neighborhood is a safe place to live even if you believe it to be true.’
Why Crime Statistics Can Be Difficult to Get-Part A
There’s another reason why getting reliable crime information, at least from a Realtor, is not preferred. That’s because in Portland, for example, Oregon Revised Statute 696.880 states that an Oregon real estate agent is not required to disclose the proximity of a sex offender. For some, this may be difficult to believe. As a result, it’s helpful to take the attitude of ‘buyer beware’ if you have small children, or simply want to avoid living near a convicted sexual predator.
Why Crime Statistics Can Be Difficult to Get-Part B
There is currently a strange situation being experienced in parts of Oregon, because while FBI crime statistics have long been seen as a helpful source of public safety information, for Portland and 40 surrounding communities, these important recent figures will not be available.
Are Sex Offenders Living 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 get information from local police near where you’re considering a move. But it’s important to know that online information is hardly foolproof. Here’s why, as stated in the Oregon Sex Offender website which reads in part, with my highlights:
This website only lists sex offenders designated: a Level 3 offender under ORS 181.800; a predatory sex offender under ORS 181.585; or a sexually violent dangerous offender under ORS 144.635. Not all sex offenders are listed on the website. In addition, the information on this website refers only to sex offenses defined under ORS 181.805(5) and does not reflect the entire criminal history of a particular individual.
Since all information is subject to change (and not everyone registers how they’re supposed to), if accurately determining if a sex offender might live in your next neighborhood is important, make sure you’re comfortable with the information you gather. Here’s a link to the State of Oregon’s sex offender website.
There are good reasons to avoid living near a convicted sex offender. In addition to the reasonable desire for safety, it’s proven that homebuyers can take a financial ‘hit’ after purchasing in unsafe neighborhoods. For example, one study showed that a home’s value declines by 4% on average if it’s located within one-tenth of a mile of a sex offender’s residence, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.
What’s A Buyer to Do?
Many homebuyers would like to see local crime statistics before buying a home. However, getting reliable information isn’t always as simple as asking a real estate agent. Why? First, realize that Realtors are not police and therefore typically not always well-versed on crime statistics. To get those, it really does make sense for buyers to contact local law enforcement, or research online themselves, using a variety of available resources.
Also understand that if you’re concerned about a factor like crime, certain kinds of research will best come from someone other than your agent. This may not seem fair, but in Oregon, an agent is not required to provide such information. The good news is that there are established sources of information for homebuyers interested in a safer neighborhood. Yet you may have to dig.
Question #3 That Your Oregon Realtor Can’t Answer: “What’s the Standard Real Estate Commission?”
The reality? There is no ‘standard’ real estate commission. A Realtor can tell you what they charge, but commissions are negotiable and one real estate agent can’t speak to what another company or agent charges. There is also good reason why a real estate agent would not want to discuss real estate commissions with other agents.
A Different Kind of ‘Running Suit’
A major antitrust lawsuit that has reverberations to this day involved real estate brokers who attempted to ‘coordinate’ an increase in their commissions. Federal investigators were not amused. As a result, now Realtors are advised very early in their training to avoid discussion of commissions with other real estate brokers, lest they be accused of ‘price fixing.’ Some real estate agents are instructed to simply leave a room if someone attempts to discuss such illegal tactics. For example, Realtors have been observed scrambling out of such a meeting to avoid talking about commission collusion, or ‘price fixing.’Do you have questions or are you considering the sale of your Oregon property? Contact veteran Oregon Realtor Roy Widing using the convenient form below for a free consultation.