Buyers want to know a lot more than the price and floor plan of a new construction home before they decide to buy.
Crime rates, property taxes, neighborhood amenities, job opportunities, school districts, homeowner association dues, zoning classifications, floodplain designations and how the local cost of living compares with other areas are on the short list of topics buyers want to explore, according to a March 2016 survey of members of the New Home Source Insights Panel, a panel of current new homeshoppers.
In some cases, builders cannot offer this information because of proprietary concerns, but most often, the case is because of fair housing laws. When buyers are unable to find this information, here’s how you can help them while still considering copyright and fair housing laws.
MLS and Beyond
Tracey Hampson, a Realtor at Century 21 Troop Real Estate in Valencia, Calif., uses a proprietary database that she can access through her MLS to find out facts buyers want to know. The database, called Find, includes crime rates, school districts, neighborhood boundaries and more.
Hampson says she delivers the information to buyers with the source and instructions: “I tell them where I received it and that ultimately I recommend verifying all information themselves personally.”
Local school and law enforcement officials are also good resources for buyers, Hampson suggests.
“Buyers can go to or call the school and ask, ‘I am purchasing a home in this neighborhood on this street, is it in your district?’ ” she says.
Floodplain certs, formally known as Elevation Certificates, typically are obtained by lenders, surveyors and property insurance agents.
But Morgan Franklin, a Realtor at United Real Estate in Lexington, Ky., says there’s no reason Realtors can’t get these documents for buyers who want them.
“Anyone can get a flood certification for a particular property from FEMA,” Franklin says.
FEMA refers to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is now part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Franklin also directs buyers to Google maps for local crime data.
Buyers who plan to relocate from outside the area are most likely to want and need the most extensive data, Franklin says. A trip to see the area in person can help.
“If I can’t satisfy a client’s questions with data, I will invite them to visit and we will tour the different areas,” he says. “Then they can make a decision for themselves.”
Realtors who offer buyers information must be mindful of laws, ethical considerations, liability risks and errors-and-omissions insurance requirements.
The risk for people who violate fair housing laws is significant.
In one U.S. government study, published in June 2015, more than 2,600 testers were sent out in 30 individual and grouped metropolitan statistical areas to measure the incidence of rental housing discrimination against people who are deaf or use a wheelchair.
Penalties for federal fair housing violations can include fines, actual and punitive damages, injunctive relief and attorney’s fees. U.S. states can also have their own fair housing laws.
Copyright law is an issue as well, says Ken Pozek, a Realtor at Keller Williams Realty in Northville, Mich., and Orlando, Fla.
Some builders allow Realtors to copy and paste floor plans and other information from the builder’s website to their own website. Others do not allow that practice.
Bradley Marshall, managing partner at DEN Property Group, a real estate brokerage in Irving-Las Colinas, Texas, also says he points buyers to local law enforcement and other community resources for information.
One area he prefers to research himself is builder upgrades, which buyers can find mystifyingly or overwhelmingly complicated.
“Not only are there eight options within one builder on 100 different lots in some of the master-planned communities, there are also seven builders within the community. To bring that information together is very difficult,” Marshall says.
Rather than direct buyers to visit all of the communities, Marshall makes these trips himself, asking questions buyers might not know are important.
Examples of his questions include:
- What is your build time right now?
- How often are you hitting that build time?
- What incentives and promotions are you offering?
- Are you seeing the builder accept offers with anything above that?
- How much does it cost to build this model home?
- How much, on average, are buyers spending in the design center?
- What’s the most a buyer has spent? The least?
Finally, Realtors need to think about their business priorities when they decide what information to share and how to share it with buyers.
A website might not be the best place to disclose certain facts, says Dave Parks, broker/owner at Berkshire Hathaway Home Services, Parks & Weisberg, Realtors, in Louisville, Ky.
“Anything you could put on your site that would cause somebody to go away, you would never put there,” Parks says. “You don’t want to drive away customers. You want to attract customers.”
Marcie Geffner is an award-winning freelance reporter, book editor and blogger whose work has been published by a long list of financial, mortgage and banking websites, trade magazines and newspapers.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in English with high honors from UCLA and a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) from Pepperdine University and has completed advanced novel-writing courses at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. She is a second-generation native and lifelong resident of Los Angeles.