Attention, Realtors!

News Flash: Home buyers with children consider children in the immediate vicinity a crucial criterion for their decision.

I just had a frustrating exchange with the selling agent for a home for sale in the Barron Park neighborhood of Palo Alto, CA. Unfortunately, this is the way my conversations with realtors have gone pretty much every time in the last two years.I asked her a straightforward question: “I have a three-year-old and a newborn. Do you know if there are any kids their age among the neighbors right around here?”

She replied, “This is a wonderful neighborhood for kids! You’ve asked the right person – I live on this street.”

“OK, great! Tell me – are their kids my kids’ ages here?”

“Well, next door, there are three kids.”

“What ages?”

“Five, seven, and nine, I think.”

“I have a three-year old and a newborn. Are there any babies or toddlers around here?”

“There are *lots* of kids around here. I wouldn’t worry about that,” she said with a slight smirk on her face.

“I’m not worried at all. I’m just trying to figure out if I want my family to live here.”

“Well, even if there were babies here, I couldn’t guarantee that they wouldn’t move in a few years.” She walked away. She had had enough of me.

Duh!!! Just because someone can’t guarantee something doesn’t mean it’s not important to a buying decision. No one can guarantee the weather this Thanksgiving in Hawaii, either, but that doesn’t prevent it from being a primary concern of those contemplating a Thanksgiving vacation there.

As I’ve written in another post, I’m convinced that if my family lives in a house that is surrounded by kids my kids’ ages, and if those kids’ parents allow them to play outside frequently, my kids will have a much better life. Therefore, I consider the existence of kids my kids’ ages playing in the immediate vicinity to be a crucial housebuying criterion.

Why don’t most realtors realize this and supply a better answer than “This is a wonderful neighborhood for kids!”? They can routinely answer detailed questions about square footage or closets or kitchen appliances.

If a realtor answered, “this house has many bathrooms!” in answer to a detailed question about how many bathrooms a house has, you’d immediately write him or her off as worthless. Well, a realtor who can’t recite details about neighbors is just as worthless, at least to families with kids. Unfortunately, the latter is true for most listing agents.

So, in conclusion, I have some advice:

Advice for listing agents: Knock on neighbors’ doors and ask lots of detailed questions.
Advice for family homebuyers: Ask realtors lots of specific, detailed questions about neighbors and the neighborhood. If they can’t answer these thoroughly, knock on neighbors’ doors to get the answers yourself.

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3 Responses to Attention, Realtors!

  1. Chuck Pletcher says:

    I completely agree. It doesn’t seem as though it would take a whole lot of extra work for an agent to gather some basic information about the neighborhood. It can only help to sell the house if you can answer a potential buyer’s questions about what is important to the prospective buyer.

  2. Ellen says:

    What you suggest is illegal in the United States under federal Fair Housing law. Realtors are no longer allowed to answer questions about schools in neighborhoods, much less the specific familial makeup of the neighbors!

  3. Mike Lanza says:

    We’ll have an article about the Fair Housing Law shortly. What’s “illegal” and what’s not is far from clear. Two things are certain: 1) realtors routinely answer these questions, albeit often they do it poorly, and 2) what their training classes tell them is illegal is far, far more strict than what the Fair Housing Administration actually enforces.

    Lawyers for real estate brokerages make a lot of money on those training classes telling realtors all the things they can’t do.

    My previous company was in web video, where startups pushed the edges of copyright law to an extent that established companies never would have, and the entire Internet population has benefited. (Imagine where web video would be now without YouTube!)

    Look for startups to push the edges of Fair Housing Law as well…