What a real estate agent can and can't tell you
Ask a real estate agent about schools, and you might get nothing more than a pained smile and a school-information website or two.
"I list homes in a neighborhood that boasts the highest rated schools in the country and I can't even say it!!!" one Virginia agent wrote on Trulia, in response to a frustrated buyer who wants to know why Realtors won't "answer questions regarding where the best schools are" near Bel Air.
Agents are afraid they're going to get into trouble with the federal Fair Housing Act, that's why. The law aims to stop housing discrimination, including the steering of people to or away from neighborhoods based on factors like race, gender and religion.
The National Fair Housing Alliance, putting agents to the test during the housing boom, filed complaints against real estate companies for allegedly telling white clients -- but not minority clients -- to avoid certain neighborhoods because of the schools.
"'Good schools’ and ‘bad schools’ are the new code words used by some real estate agents to discourage Whites from considering integrated neighborhoods," the alliance said in a 2006 press release.
Such testing -- and federal-complaint-filing -- has not gone unnoticed by agents. When I interviewed Realtors for today's story about the impact of school test scores on such non-classroom matters as home values, there was some squirming over the phone line.