The Death and Life of Great American Communities – Neighborhood Data Edition


OK, so the title is a bit of a stretch, a botched twist on Jane Jacob’s seminal work The Death and Life of Great American Cities which explores what makes cities work and the dynamics of successful (and unsuccessful) urban neighborhoods.  A fantastic read just as relevant today as its original 1961 publication date. While my title might be a stretch, I think it pales in comparison to the title and subtitle of Teke Wiggin’s recent Inman News piece, “Neighborhood Information Like Sex Offender, School and Crime Data will Fuel Residential Segregation: Inman News special report explores how neighborhood stats are undermining agents, subverting fair housing laws and reshaping communities".

To Teke’s credit, the first edition of his series has stirred a spirited debate on the website with more than 50 comments posted by readers in less than 24 hours. I won’t attempt to characterize the comments, I suggest you just hop over to the site and read for yourself.

Suffice it to say that I strongly disagree with Teke’s premise, declarative statements and conclusions on this topic.  In all fairness, only the first two parts of this four part series have been published and Teke promises much more substantial support of his points in the subsequent installments.  However, I have a fundamentally different viewpoint on this topic entirely.

The Truth, The Whole Truth and…

If you’re reading this post you probably know a bit about Onboard Informatics.  If not, you can catch up here.  In fulfilling our mission to provide data-driven innovations to empower informed real estate decisions, we take our local data very seriously.  Obsessively seriously.  Our team of 25+ professionals is focused day in and day out on providing our the most accurate, up to date and comprehensive data about communities, properties, schools and other local areas.  We’ve lived and breathed this stuff for 12 years and counting.

The data will never be perfect.  Even if our population figure for the Park Slope neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY (57,677 people) was calculated yesterday by counting everyone in the area in person, by the end of the day today it will be wrong.  A dozen people moved out, 24 babies were born, ten people moved in…you get the idea.  But we’re pretty darn close and work our tails off to keep it that way.  That’s what our clients and their consumers demand.

However, any way you slice it, our job is to tell a story as accurately as possible from the underlying data.  We’re not predicting, narrating or selectively editing.  Our goal is to provide accuracy and consistency across the board.  From a real estate industry perspective, it is exactly this objectivity that keeps our clients clear of redlining & steering issues. In the first edition of the series, Teke claimed, “indeed, the spread of data will make many agents’ lives more difficult”. On the contrary, making this data available for home shoppers has proven to ignite dialogue and leads for agents. Most importantly, the facts are facts, and as long as they are not selectively edited or displayed for particular areas then they can (and should) be shown.

Additionally, these facts inform home shoppers as accurately as possible on one of the largest investments and most important decisions of their lives. As stated in Teke’s first edition, Gina Ospina, a home shopper in Providence, R.I., “was only willing to take the plunge if she could find a neighborhood that’s safe”. In my opinion, if this is any home shopper’s top priority, that buyer has every right to accurate information that better informs their home buying decision. For the agent, having this data available generates engagement, dialogue, and most importantly, a satisfied client.

I also believe these concepts easily translate to the highlight of the second edition of Teke's series, which is sex offender data and it's availability. If a family is concerned for the safety of their children, is the solution having realtors misconstrue/omit facts and data in order to misguide the family into a dangerous, unfavorable neighborhood? Is an easy buck a more prominent concern than the safety of families nationwide? Realtors should not only engage and convert home shoppers into buyers. Primarily, they should do everything in their power to help home shoppers make an informed decision on finding that family's perfect home in order to generate satisfied clients.

Have We Learned Our Lesson Yet?

The data is out there and it’s not going back in the box.  Sound vaguely familiar?  Our clients choose to empower consumers and professionals alike with local data to create opportunities for dialog and because it’s what consumers want to see. NAR’s 2013 Profile of Homebuyers and Sellers found 79% of consumers find neighborhood information useful in their online home search.

Has the Internet revolution taught our industry anything? I believe it should be clear to all of us by now that it’s better to give consumers the information they want and then engage them instead of building walls and turning them away.  They will get the data they need either way…

Image Credit: Wikipedia