- - Thursday, June 23, 2011

Some of the most important information for prospective homebuyers, such as the reputation of the local school and crime rates, is data Realtors are not allowed to share under fair-housing laws. A good agent, however, will tell clients where they can find the information they desire.

“Fair Housing laws are in place to make sure Realtors avoid what is known as ‘red-lining’ or ‘streamlining,’ or sending someone to a specific neighborhood based on their race, creed, sex, ethnic background or economic factors,” said Robyn Burdett, an associate broker with Re/Max Allegiance in Fairfax.

“We cannot say that one neighborhood is a good one or a bad one, but we can talk to prospective buyers about value and prices,” she said. “We can tell them when a home is a ‘good buy’ in terms of the price and market in that particular neighborhood.”

Realtors typically know a lot about their community because they are constantly in touch with the people who live and work there and garner information about things such as road improvements, retail development and the location of swimming pools, recreation centers and soccer leagues. Facts about amenities or transportation are valuable pieces of information that Realtors can share.

“To oversimplify, we can talk about the physical features in an area, we just can’t talk about the people who live there,” said Greg Ford, an associate broker with Long & Foster Real Estate in Potomac.

Lindsay Reishman, principal broker of Lindsay Reishman Real Estate in the District, said, “We cannot tell someone where they should live, but these days, most buyers research neighborhood information online. They can ask their friends and acquaintances about where they live to find out if they might want to live there, too.”

Many Realtors and real estate offices have neighborhood information on their websites geared to potential buyers from out of the area. The sites can offer descriptive information about different communities as well as facts about home styles and prices. In addition, these sites often have links to other websites that can provide information about schools and crime reports.

“We’re allowed to be the ‘source of sources’ for our customers,” Mr. Ford said. “So we can tell people where to find the information, and we can keep copies of published information such as magazine articles that rank local schools or describe different neighborhoods.”

Community profiles are popular in magazines such as Washingtonian, Bethesda Magazine and Northern Virginia Magazine and can be found in many newspapers as well. Online, www.UrbanTurf.com offers profiles of neighborhoods within the District, including descriptions of homes, prices, community amenities and a general idea of whether an area is popular with young families, singles or empty-nesters or a combination of those demographic groups.

Mr. Ford says www.citydata.com can be searched for demographic information by prospective buyers.

“Buyers who are interested in particular activities, such as lacrosse, golf or a dog park, can ask their Realtor about the location of those kinds of amenities,” Mr. Ford said.

County websites have listings of parks and recreation centers for buyers, and a Realtor also can share that information with buyers.

Information about schools can be found in several ways. Each school district has a website with searchable information on the test scores and programs in each school within the system. In the District, Mr. Reishman says the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) website (http://dcps.dc.gov/portal/site/DCPS) includes school boundary maps and other information.

The link for public charter school information is www.dcpubliccharter.com. The charter school site includes a list of information about every charter school in the city. Each county government website in Virginia and Maryland has a link to the school system.

“The school system websites in Northern Virginia include test scores and will also have languages spoken and demographics for each school,” Ms. Burdett said.

Mr. Ford suggests using www.MySchoolProfile.com for demographic information and www.PSK12.com for school rankings. Each of these sites can be searched by location and includes public and charter schools nationwide. Another website for school information is www.melissadata.com/lookups/index.htm.

“One great way for parents to find out about schools is to search online for parent blogs in different neighborhoods or for different schools,” says Mr. Reishman. “Local listservs are one of the best sources of information about a community because people post information that can be useful and talk about issues that are important to them. It can be a great way to get a feel for an area.”

Crime reports can be accessed by address or ZIP code at www.crimereports.com, or prospective buyers can call the local police station. Ms. Burdette said many newspapers publish weekly local crime reports.

“One of the best things to do is to drive through a community and see if the way it looks appeals to you,” Ms. Burdette said. “You can stop someone on the street to see if they live there and are willing to talk to you about the neighborhood, or even knock on someone’s door.”

Mr. Reishman said prospective buyers should be sure to return to a neighborhood at different times of day and night and on the weekend and rely on their instincts to see if it feels right for them.

“I mostly sell homes in the city, so the most important thing to a lot of my buyers is whether they can walk to work, to grocery stores and to restaurants and bars,” Mr. Reishman said. “They want a lot of amenities close to home.”

He recommended checking an address or ZIP code on www.WalkScore.com, which provides a score according to the walking distance to amenities such as coffee shops, libraries, parks, stores and more.

Transportation is important to nearly all buyers, regardless of whether they are in the city or suburbs. For some buyers, proximity to a Metro station, a Virginia Railway Express station or a bus stop is vital information and can be shared by a Realtor.

“For people who will be driving, I always suggest driving to and from work at rush hour from a prospective neighborhood so they will know what the traffic will be like,” Ms. Burdett said. “If I know about any planned construction projects or road projects, I can share that information, too. Buyers in a town-house or condominium community should also look into the availability of parking for themselves and for guests.”

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