When real estate agents don’t know where they are

Over many years I’ve continued to be stunned by how little real estate agents are about the locations of the homes they’re selling or assisting buyers in acquiring. Ask the name of the park or school across the street, where you can stop for breakfast nearby before visiting an open house, the location of the nearest El stop and so on, and you’ll more often than not get a blank stare rather than an accurate answer. In an industry whose mantra is “location, location, location” its practitioners are typically clueless, clueless, clueless.

Ask what neighborhood the property is located in, however, and you’ll get a firm, confident answer. If it’s not in a location uniformly perceived as desirable, there’s a good chance the answer is a lie or an error resulting from ignorance.

Misidentifying a neighborhood name generally has few, if any, harmful consequences in the city of Chicago. When the home you bought in West Roscoe Village turns out to be in Avondale, the Chicago Police and Fire Departments respond to your problems, the trash gets picked up, the water comes from Lake Michigan, and so on. There’s no impact on the delivery of municipal services.

If you’re buying a home you’ve been told is in Glen Ellyn or Winnetka or Lake Bluff and it turns out to be in an unincorporated area, the consequences can be costly. You may have a long wait for a County Sheriff to respond to a law enforcement emergency, may have to pay non-resident fees to use the local parks or libraries, and may have water that’s reddish brown as it comes from the tap. In some cases a homeowner’s association may have contract with a neighboring municipality for the provision of some services, fire protection being a common one.

Unincorporated areas are more common than you might think. In Cook County they encompass 62 square miles and 98,000 residents.

It’s easy to take for granted the extensive range of services that local municipalities provide their residents. Don’t. Never rely on information in a real estate listing about a property’s location or an agent’s representations as to what’s included in your property tax bill.

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