First time buyer - I think my agent may be trying to steer me. What should I do?

Written by Posted On Thursday, 01 May 2014 06:48

Question – My wife and I are a bi-racial couple and I’m starting to feel like my agent is only showing us houses in areas with heavy black populations. He seems to be steering us away from areas that are only white.  What should I do?

Answer – An agent who is trying to steer you towards specific areas or away from specific areas based upon almost anything – race, religion, lifestyle, sexual preference, etc. - is committing a Federal crime that is prohibited by the Federal Equal Opportunity Housing (FEOH) Act. Even the accusation of attempted steering is a serious matter, so do not level it lightly; however, if you believe that is the case, you don’t have to put up with it either.

First talk to your agent about why he/she is showing you homes in the areas that they’ve chosen. Ask which of the criteria that you gave the agent may be driving those choices. Most of the time the major factor will be price, but perhaps you’ve specified something else that is the gating factor to what shows up in the search results. Ask him to make changes to the search criteria and see if the results and what he shows you change.

Requiring a specific school district may greatly restrict what the agent can find to show you. Other criteria that can have dramatic impact are the number of bedrooms and baths that you require or perhaps that the place has a fenced in back yard or maybe you’ve asked to see only ranch style homes. All of those things will give the agent less to work with and they may end up skewing the search to available homes in a specific area or they may work to exclude other areas. None of that involves steering as defined in the FEOH laws.

If you agent doesn’t have a good explanation for why you keep seeing only homes in a certain area or that you never see homes in another area, then listen for other indicators that he/she may be guilty of some level of steering. If he tells you that he just thought you’d feel more comfortable in certain areas or that he was concerned that another area might make you feel uncomfortable, that would be an indicator of steering, no matter how unconsciously he/she might be doing it.

Sometimes, otherwise well-meaning agents might mistakenly think they are helping you by trying to find areas that might have other homeowners of similar backgrounds, ethnicity or lifestyle preferences. They may be completely oblivious to the fact that you (and the Federal FEOH people) may consider that steering. So, if you think that they are otherwise a good and honest person (albeit misguided) that you want to continue to work with, give them the benefit of the doubt.  Say something to them about wanting to see other areas and tell them how you feel.  See if that helps get them on the right track. You’ll probably be able to tell from their response whether they were consciously trying to steer you or just thought that they were being sensitive and helpful.  A good agent will be embarrassed as hell to be called out for steering on what they thought was doing a good thing. A really good agent will thank you for helping them see that what they were doing is wrong and immediately correct it.

The real estate business and the people who are agents in it reflect our society in general, so there will always be some bigots hidden in the mix of agents. In general, you will find most agents are very careful not to show any sign of discrimination or biased steering of clients. We all get quite a bit of training on the FEOH rules and view of what s steering and discrimination and we take refresher courses on the FEOH laws at least every other year. Every licensed agent knows what steering is and the great majority of them will work very hard to avoid it or even the appearance of any discrimination.

Sometimes the underlying bigotry that drives this behavior isn’t even subtle and an agent may come out and say that he was showing you homes in neighborhoods that have “people like you” or “families like yours” in them. Maybe they say that they thought you’d “want to be with your own people.”  That’s not an indicator; that’s a red flag. Click on this link for the FEOH complaint line and report that agent. There’s no room in the real estate business for those kinds of attitudes and bigoted beliefs. Life’s too short to put up with that from a real estate agent.


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Norm Werner

Norm Werner is a Realtor at the Milford office of Real Estate One serving the southeastern Michigan area of Oakland and Livingston Counties. Norm specializes in residential real estate. Norm lives and works in Milford Michigan and is married to Carolyn Werner. Norm and Carolyn live in a historic home just three blocks from downtown Milford, with their two dogs - Sadie and Skippy. Norm specializes in the historic homes of Milford and the surrounding area and is on the Board of Directors of the Milford Historical Society. Norm especially enjoys working with first time buyers and those at the other end of the real estate spectrum who are downsizing into their retirement home. 

In addition to his web site, Norm also owns and m,aintains web site, the web site. He is also the webmaster for and the web site and the MilfordCar web site, as well as his church web site - In addition to blogging about real eastate, Norm has a personal blog - - on which he shares inspirational messages and the occasions personal observation about life.

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