Real Estate Sites Are Dropping Neighborhood Crime Data—Here’s Why
Major real estate listing companies are opting not to publish neighborhood crime data because it may be misleading and discriminatory.
Buying a house is the most significant financial purchase many will make, which is why it’s vital to know everything about a home and its neighborhood before signing on the dotted line. The problem is that information associated with homes’ listings may not accurately reflect what’s really going on in a community. What’s more, gathering a listing’s neighborhood crime data from FBI statistics of reported crimes may be misleading and lead to discriminatory practices.
Recently Realtor.com, the official website of the National Association of Realtors, removed all neighborhood crime data from its listings. Other real estate brokerages are following suit. We consulted experts in the real estate industry to get their takes on the trend, and find out how they plan to consider their buyers’ and sellers’ interests without using neighborhood crime data.
Reported crime differs from actual crime.
Redfin, one of Seattle’s largest real estate brokerages, will no longer publish crime data on its listings. Its reasoning? Citing the number of reported crimes reported in a neighborhood is misleading and does not reflect reports that are later determined not to have been crimes. In addition, many crimes are never reported, which further skews FBI data. Potential home buyers can get a false sense of how safe (or unsafe) a neighborhood if they’re only taking the FBI’s reported crime statistics into account.
A safe neighborhood is about more than data.
When Redfin surveyed clients, it found that the idea of a safe neighborhood didn’t necessarily coincide with neighborhood crime data. Safety is about many things, such as how fast vehicles pass by on the street in front of a house, or whether the area is prone to flooding. Home buyers can consider multiple safety factors. Regrettably, some do not look beyond neighborhood crime data, so they miss essential factors related to the overall safety of a specific neighborhood.
Home buyers can be on the lookout for terms like “quiet neighborhood” or “cul de sac,” both of which might indicate a neighborhood without a lot of traffic. If crime data is important to a buyer, their best bet is to visit the community’s local police department.
Crime data may promote racial bias.
If buyers associate unreliable crime data with race, it can affect the way they shop for their next home. Jonathan de Araujo, a licensed real estate broker with The Vantage Point Team in Lexington, Massachusetts, says that “Adding crime stats to a listing can promote racial segregation.” To avoid participating in discriminatory practices, de Araujo handles each situation according to individual clients’ concerns.
De Araujo recognizes that agents have a fiduciary responsibility to their clients, so he is sure to ask his buyers what kind of safety information they’re looking for and then helps them find it. He explains that Redfin and Realtor.com have shifted the responsibility of research back to the buyer.
It could violate fair housing guidelines.
Perhaps the best way for real estate agents to address the question of crime in a neighborhood is to refer clients to the local police department. That’s what Jason Gelios, author of Think Like a REALTOR and licensed agent with Community Choice Realty in Southeast Michigan, does.
“Real estate agents are taught not to comment on that information as it can potentially violate fair housing guidelines,” he said. Gelios isn’t surprised to see the home listing sites removing crime data since many of the sites double as real estate brokers.
The Fair Housing Act of 1968 banned discrimination in the real estate industry based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, or familial status. Citing crime rate data may therefore lead to discrimination, meaning it could potentially violate Fair Housing guidelines.
Buyers should consider information from primary sources.
Even though crime data may no longer appear on real estate listings, buyers can still obtain relevant information needed to make an informed decision elsewhere. Scott Coggins, Team Leader/Realtor with The Nashville Luxury Team at Fridrich & Clark Realty, LLC, says their brokerage has “never relied on third party aggregators of data.” Instead, “we routinely refer our clients to the direct source,” Coggins said, such as local law enforcement or sex offender registries. To prevent agents from speculating, they’re taught, “When in doubt, refer it out.”