Allen Norwood

Answer questions about homes for sale?

You’re mowing the front lawn or maybe just walking to the mailbox. A car stops and the driver says, “Good morning! I have a few questions about the house that’s for sale down the street.”

If you’re like most of us, trying to be friendly and helpful, you answer those questions. Later, maybe you wonder whether you said anything that you shouldn’t have.

Probably not. As helpful neighbors, we don’t face the same risks as the licensed pros. But there’s a common-sense, easy-to-remember way to be sure you don’t stray into areas that ought to be off limits, according to Dana Rhodes, a respected real estate instructor.

I spoke to Rhodes because I’ve been answering lots of questions about houses for sale on our street.

A handful of passersby have stopped to inquire about the house next door, for instance.

Everybody who pulls up asks about the neighborhood boat docks. Each house that lacks a dock of its own comes with a deeded slip on the community docks. Folks who stop at the end of our driveway ask which dock goes with this house, which goes with that one? If I know, I always answer.

No problem, said Rhodes, who teaches at the regional Realtors’ Mingle School of Real Estate and leads advanced courses at the national level. If you know a fact like that, you can share it.

A couple of times I’ve also volunteered that the dock that goes with the house next door has good, deep water. Boats slip in and out easily even when the lake is at its lowest.

That’s not true of some other docks. (In fact, there are million-dollar houses on the lake with docks that won’t accommodate big boats when the lake is down.)

Rhodes said there are two broad areas where helpful neighbors might trip up. One is the minefield of discrimination, where most of us wouldn’t go. And the other is real estate licensing – where we might go.

“Can you tell prospective buyers about the house? Yes,” he said. “Can you say they should buy it? No.”

Remember, you’re not a licensed real estate agent.

Over the years, folks have shared things with me about their neighbors that I didn’t think they should have – epecially things like financial woes, missed mortgage payments and delinquent homeowner fees.

Which brings me to Rhodes’ helpful guideline: “If you’re talking about a property, pretend your client (or your neighbor) is standing right there. If it would embarrass them, then don’t say it.”