• Sellers should not disclose information about specific neighbors that might be viewed as slander. How should buyers find answers about a neighborhood? Personal research.

Having shown thousands of homes as a Realtor, I’ve fielded multitudes of questions from buyers as they’ve walked through various homes. Asking questions is wise — it’s better to get answers up front than discover nasty surprises after escrow closes.

Ranging from sensible to silly, intelligent to inane, buyer queries help agents focus on potential concerns or objections their clients may have about any property. Effectively fielding the questions is a tremendous responsibility because an agent’s response to any question might sink or seal a deal.

The No. 1 question? ‘Why is the seller selling?’

Although this question seems benign at first blush, it contains serious undertones. Buyers are concerned there might be some dark, sinister reason the current owners are enduring the hassle of relocating.

Translated: “Does Jason live next door?” “Are there sex offenders in the neighborhood?” “Do the neighbors have wild parties, mean dogs, loud motorcycles, etc.?”

Bottom line: “What is the neighborhood really like?”

The problem is that unless the sellers provide documentation as to why they are selling, the buyer’s agent typically has absolutely no idea. And, as I’ve discovered over the years, in many cases, the listing agent does not know the real reasons, either.

Some situations are more obvious than others. The sellers might have accepted a job out-of-the-area, a baby might have arrived mandating more bedrooms, an older couple might no longer need as many bedrooms, there might be financial hardship and so on.

If it’s a probate or estate sale, then the sellers have either died or can no longer live in the home.

Other motivations, however, might not be so readily visible. Truth be known, if the sellers are moving due to neighborhood issues, chances are they will probably not be totally forthcoming about their reasons for departure.

Although required by law to disclose pertinent facts such as neighborhood noise, proximity to traffic, airplanes, trains, death in the home and the like, there is information they should not disclose.

As an example, they should not disclose information about specific neighbors that might be viewed as slander.

In one situation, seller wannabes had been told by neighbors that the gentleman next door was a sex offender. Alarmed, they checked the sex offender registry, but found nothing. They surmised, based on casual observation, that there might have been family issues next door, but with no verifiable proof, declined to share any negative information.

Real estate agents, leery of disparagement and resultant lawsuits, are also reticent to disclose things they might have overheard.

It’s not uncommon for neighbors to visit open houses and assail the agent with, “Did you know …?” comments. Additionally, agents are bound by the Fair Housing Act, which governs what they may or may not disclose.

Nicknamed “steering,” the law specifies that agents may not provide information that might “steer” buyers from or toward any specific property or neighborhood.

3 ways buyers can find answers when searching for a home

So how does a buyer find answers? Personal research. We have three recommendations:

1. Bang on doors

Potential buyers should talk to as many neighbors as possible. Ask what locals like about the neighborhood. Inquire about any potential problems.

2. Examine online statistics

Examine websites that provide crime information. Go to the sex offender registry. Sites such as www.city-data.com can provide helpful statistics.

3. ‘Google’ the address

See if any news items or neighborhood complaints pop up. Buyers might be very surprised at what they find.

Our advice? Because the buyers are the ones who will be living there, it’s in their best interest to do their own research rather than rely on carefully crafted answers from someone on the other side of the transaction.

Carl Medford is the CEO of The Medford Team. Follow him on Twitter.

Email Carl Medford

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