Did you know that there are some things which your Realtor or real estate licensee/salesperson is prohibited from discussing with you? This is a surprise to many Silicon Valley home buyers.

Fair Housing Laws prevent real estate professionals from telling consumers certain types of information, particularly demographic information, anywhere in the United States. For instance, your agent cannot discuss with you these things:

  • where racial groups have the highest concentration
  • where people are found by religious affiliation
  • where certain languages are spoken or not spoken
  • whether or not there are halfway houses for alcoholics or other addicts nearby
  • if neighbors are mentally ill
  • whether someone died of AID or HIV (not the death, but cause of death)

These are just a few examples of protected groups covered by the Fair Housing Laws. As you might imagine, this is for consumer protection, and the laws are well-intended.

But it can also work against those with the best of intentions who are not trying to discriminate with malice.

Case in point: A couple of years ago, a gentleman contacted me from another part of California who was interested in relocating to the San Jose area. He told me that his wife is Vietnamese and they wanted to live where their son would grow up hearing and learning the Vietnamese language; he wondered if I could tell him where in San Jose the neighborhoods with large Vietnamese populations lived. He knew that there’s a large Vietnamese population in San Jose and Santa Clara County, and that was one of the reasons they were considering a move here.

Obviously this is a person who was not trying to do something bad at all, but even so, it was illegal for me to tell him the information that he considered vitally important. What I could do, and did do, was send him a links to local Vietnamese groups, magazines, etc. and also a link to a website with language information, which had the information that he sought. (That site, by the way, is the Modern Language Associations site. If you have friends who are professors of languages, there’s a good chance they are members of the MLA!)

In some states, the laws are even more restrictive on what agents can tell consumers. My advice is to ask your Realtor upfront what he or she may not discuss. Also, ask where the desired information may be found if the agent cannot tell you what you want to know. For instance, agents may be hedgy on telling you where sex offenders live for a number of reasons (are they a protected class because of mental illness? that might be a reason). Many will want you to do your own research, especially since that population might move around. So they’ll tell you, check www.CrimeReports.com or another similar site for current info.

Sometimes people want to know if they’re buying in a ˜white collar or ˜blue collar neighborhood. Or perhaps they want to know the education level or income level of a part of San Jose, Los Gatos, Saratoga, or elsewhere in Santa Clara County. This kind of demographic information is shaky ground for real estate professionals in Silicon Valley. If you want a breakdown by region in the population, check the US Census Bureau.  Another good site that I like a lot (since it’s easy to use) is ZipSkinny.  One more is City-Data.com.

And please understand, if you ask your Silicon Valley Realtor about these things, that he or she may be prohibited from telling you. Its one of those cases where its just not always intuitive what should be legal or illegal all the time. So if you ask upfront, you will understand the legal restrictions on what your agent can tell you.

Please also read:

What’s the Difference between a Realtor and a Real Estate Agent or Licensee?

Understanding School Scores in Silicon Valley