“I don’t want to get beat up because I have a rainbow sticker on my car.”
My client was sharing some concerns when looking for a neighborhood in Dayton, and this was an issue for him, to be sure. We all want to feel safe being who we are, in our own homes. He was relying on my knowledge of Dayton to help meet his needs, that’s one reason Realtors get paid, right?
One of the first DMM posts I ever commented on was regarding steering, or the perception of steering at any rate, and it’s a very delicate issue. My client wanted to feel safe- that’s pretty cut and dry, isn’t it? But what if a client said to me “I don’t want to live around any of those people”. Does that change the picture? I know, it’s complicated. So how do you and your Realtor find a neighborhood to love, that will love you back?
On the one hand, we want to be happy, safe, and comfortable in our own neighborhood. On the other hand, steering is illegal. Lawyers.com describes steering as:
… a practice used by real estate brokers and agents to preserve and encourage patterns of racial segregation by ”steering” or directing members of racial or ethnic groups to buildings or areas occupied primarily by members of their own racial or ethnic group and away from buildings and neighborhoods inhabited by members of other races or groups. Though not specifically prohibited under the FHA, the means through which steering is most commonly accomplished, such as unlawful refusals to sell or rent and discrimination in terms or conditions, are prohibited.
Sometimes people mask other concerns by looking for “good schools”. Fair question? Maybe, but the problem with me directing you to this or that school district, aside from the legal aspects, is that I have no idea what you really want from a school district. The question is way too vague.
This year, due to a serious health issue, one of my kids unexpectedly needed Special Services in our school district. We live in a district that tends to score average as a district on standardized testing although some specific schools score in the Excellent range. It’s a very large high school, and I feared she would fall through the cracks. We were put in touch with the Special Services Director who set up home tutoring for her. This particular tutor is an independent contractor who works throughout the Greater Dayton area, with multiple school districts, and was a godsend for us. At our first meeting, she told us how lucky we were to be in this district, because in another district- one that is generally held in high regard due to test scores- home tutoring isn’t really an option. In her words, “They won’t work with a student’s individual needs.”
Standardized tests measure some things, but I encourage clients to look deeper: Do you have children who have special needs? Do you have children who play sports? Are they into the arts? Are they academically inclined? All these issues are going to have to factor into what makes a school “good” to one family and not a good fit for another, and wouldn’t you want to be the one to make that decision?
So how can we legally help clients? By providing a ton of information from a variety of sources. If you have specific- and legal- needs, we can help you discover sources of information to meet those needs, but we can’t be the source of the information itself. It’s not wise and in some cases it’s not legal for the Realtor to be the decision-maker, as tempting as it might be to transfer this responsibility to them. The best way to find a neighborhood you like is the simplest way- spend time time there. Almost always, spending time in a neighborhood is the only way you will know if you are going to feel comfortable.
There is really no substitute for looking around a neighborhood when people are moving about- at rush hour, after school lets out, on the weekends. Check out the neighbors. Talk to the neighbors- yes, you can do that, why not? You can chat up the person washing their car, or planting the bulbs, or if it’s today, shoveling their walks. If they don’t want to talk, that says something about the neighborhood too, and it’s okay to either feel comfortable or uncomfortable with neighbors who like their privacy. It’s a matter of finding your own comfort zone and in the end, you really truly don’t want a Realtor deciding that for you, do you?
Realtors are bound to their clients as fiduciaries. We have a duty to follow your legal instructions. In the same way “I don’t want to live around those people” is an illegal instruction with which we can’t help you, if you ask to see properties in a specific area, and your Realtor refuses or disuades you, ask why. If you feel you are being steered, please, take action. You can find out more about steering, and how to protect yourself, at the Miami Valley Fair Housing site, here.
In the case of my client, he spent time researching websites and at local restaurants, driving streets in different areas, and talking to neighbors about what they love about their neighborhood. He’s loving his house, in the middle of a Dayton neighborhood that doesn’t care what kind of flag flies from the front porch. He found a place he’s happy to call “home”.