Ms. Lank: Our family is moving out of state, and we will buy a new home in a new city. We have a Realtor, but she is not much help when we try to pick a neighborhood. I read advice that says to rent first to see if we really want to live there permanently, but we know we will. The biggest problem is the location of the good schools. The agent doesn't seem to know, and then she asks which area we want to look in. — R. S.
Answer: Brokers hesitate to characterize neighborhoods or give you opinions on school systems. If any of their statements are based on protected factors like race, color, religion, country of origin, age, disability or sex, they could face charges of illegal steering.
Steering means using subtle means to ensure you end up where they think you should. Unfortunately, that's somewhat like the service a good broker does perform when selecting homes to show you, so brokers must be careful about their motives and about what they say.
Your agent is allowed to furnish facts, though. Per-pupil expenditure is not always a good guide, but you'd be interested in what percentage of students graduate, how many go on to four-year colleges and the like.
One good way to learn about a new community is to read its newspaper, whether online or in print. After a few weeks, you'll begin to get a feeling for neighborhoods. You can also ask prospective co-workers where they live. The internet is full of webpages describing various communities. And again: If your agent doesn't have statistics about various school systems, he or she can get them.
Let the Agent Show
Dear Edith: We took your advice, and when an agent called to say she wanted to bring someone over to look at our house, we went across the street to our neighbor's so we wouldn't be there. It wasn't our agent; it was some other company. We were watching across the street, and we saw those people were in our house a very short time. My sister thinks it wasn't even two minutes.
That doesn't seem professional at all. If this company calls again, I don't want to let it bring anyone over. My agent doesn't think I should refuse. She's not sure I even can. What do you think? — M. S.
Answer: There are several reasons why buyers might spend only a few minutes in your home.
Let's assume, for instance, that they want a dead-end living room, someplace traffic-free and quiet. The agent from a cooperating brokerage has never seen your property before. She brings in those buyers; they make a beeline for the living room, and it's not what they're looking for. They promptly cross your house off the list to save energy for more house hunting.
Maybe I should add to my standard advice that when your home is being shown, you shouldn't even be watching from the neighbors'. But, seriously, I still say if you have an agent to show the place, yes, it's a good idea for you to be absent.
With you watching, prospects are inhibited from opening closets, trying out windows, stroking bannisters and performing all those get-acquainted gestures that are the house-hunting equivalent of kicking the tires and slamming the doors of a new car.
Of course, if you have no agent and are showing the house yourself, you need to monitor prospects unobtrusively just for security reasons. But don't think you're supposed to flood them with chatter. Try to give them privacy at some point so they can exchange comments and reactions.
Limiting the pool of prospective buyers lessens your chances of a successful sale. You might even accidentally violate some provision of state and federal fair-housing laws. Your best bet is to keep the property available to any buyer financially capable of purchasing.
Dear Edith: We sold our house, or at least we have a contract signed by us and the buyer. They have to get a mortgage, but there seems to be a holdup, and the closing date in the contract is next week. Do we have the right to put the house back on the market if they don't have the money by then? — Anonymous
Answer: With most sale contracts, the proposed closing date is simply a target. If it comes and goes, the contract is still in force. If you want out at that point, consult a lawyer about whether you can "make time of the essence."
Contact Edith Lank at www.askedith.com, at [email protected] or at 240 Hemingway Drive, Rochester NY 14620.