“I Can’t Drive 55.” This, of course, being a 1984 hit song from Sammy Hagar, but also a recent theme in my life ... again. My youngest daughter just turned 16. Frankly, neither one of us can drive 55, but we are on opposite sides of the gas pedal. Where I tend to be a bit on the heavy-footed side, she seems to be tip-toeing through the tulips. I would remind her to speed up a bit, but that would prompt her to look down at the speedometer and take her eyes off the road; and trust me when I say that none of us want that.
Although speed is certainly an issue we discuss while driving together, the biggest problem we have run into is steering. She veers. Frequently. Maybe she has watched too many of those old movies where they film the character behind the wheel with their hands on 10 and two frantically moving the wheel like their running through the "Super Mario Kart" Rainbow Road course level IV. “Frantic” and “moving” are the key words here, 10 and two ... are not.
While steering is a key concept in driver’s education, it is not something that is either condoned or smiled upon in the real estate industry. In fact, it’s downright illegal. Don’t get me wrong, my daughter has the right, obligation and responsibility to steer — preferably in the right direction and away from any concrete barriers, meandering deer, pedestrians or falling objects — which I guess, in a way, would make it just like a level IV course from "Mario Kart."
However, in real estate, when we use the term “steering,” we are referring to the unlawful practice of attempting to influence a prospective buyer’s choice of communities based on the buyer’s race, color, religion, gender, disability, familial status or national origin. Steering on the basis of any of the above characteristics violates the Fair Housing Act, which was enacted in 1968 following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
Admittedly, it’s a fine line we walk. “Is this a good neighborhood?” could be a loaded question. If your real estate agent answers it like a politician, there is a reason for that. If he or she answers, “It’s great, if you like crime,” they have violated the FHA. Even if they answer with, “It’s a great neighborhood for young families,” it could also be considered a violation.
The word “good” is subject to interpretation. If the agent implies that the area is high-crime, even if the statistics can back that up, this can be interpreted as a violation based on race. The comment about young families could imply that older people or people with no children wouldn’t feel welcome. Like I said, it’s a fine line.
So, what is a buyer to do? Perhaps you have moved from out of state and you really do want to move into a neighborhood where there are other kids around for your kids to play with. Don’t panic. First, you moved to Utah. There are plenty of children to go around. Second, your agent can provide you with resources and tools to find an area that would fit your specific needs and desires. Internet resources abound and are ripe with current statistics to help you do the steering.
Meantime, my heart goes out to all the driver’s education instructors. May the force be with you; and may my daughter decide that the gas pedal is her friend.
Jen Kirchhoefer is an associate broker and Realtor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 801-645-2134.