Redfin calls on real estate websites to suppress crime data

The company cited the real estate industry’s history of redlining, as well as the potential to reinforce racial bias, as reasons for ditching crime data on search portals and other websites.

Real estate portals Realtor.com and Redfin said on Monday they would not include crime data on their websites, with the latter calling on others in the industry to similarly remove information from their own sites.

David doctorow

Both companies announced their moves in blog posts. In the case of Realtor.com, CEO David Doctorow wrote, “Earlier this month, we removed the crime map layer from all search results on Realtor.com to rethink the security information that we’re sharing on Realtor.com and how best to integrate them as part of a consumer’s home search experience. The title of the post was an invitation to the entire real estate industry to “Approach Fair Housing Together”.

Redfin went even further.

In a blog post on his site, Redfin Director of Growth Christian Taubman began by noting that Redfin recently considered adding crime data to its lists “because we try to answer all of them. questions people ask themselves when considering buying a home. . “

Christian taubman

However, the company ultimately decided not to add this information. This was in part because Redfin doesn’t believe the available data allows it to accurately answer consumers’ questions about neighborhood safety. And this was also due to the belief that “given the long history of restrictive and racist housing covenants in the United States, there is too great a risk” that inaccuracies in the data “reinforce racial prejudice,” he said. writes Taubman.

Taubman then argued that other real estate websites should follow suit.

“We believe Redfin – and all real estate sites – shouldn’t be posting data on crime in the neighborhood,” Taubman said.

Taubman further clarified that in researching the problem, Redfin learned that there is “a real variety in the way people define and rate security, and that doesn’t quite fit into pure criminal data.” The variations extend to how people view street trash, violent crime and homelessness, but the ultimate conclusion was that “people care about safety, not crime”.

Redfin also found that most crimes go unreported, which means crime data can “be skewed one way or another.”

“And the fact that most of the reported crimes go unresolved means that some of the crimes actually reported may not be crimes,” Taubman continued. “If you pull data at the neighborhood level, the risk of these gaps leading to inaccuracies becomes high. “

Finally, Taubman explained in the post that Redfin is considering using other survey-based datasets. However, the downside of survey data is that “if there is racial bias in respondents’ responses, this will be reflected directly in the data”.

“And there are disturbing signs of that: In the 2019 survey, those reporting crimes were more likely to describe their attacker as young, male and black than one would expect given the depiction. of these groups in the population, ”Taubman wrote.

The calls to arms from both companies come at a time when the real estate industry is increasingly grappling with racism, discrimination and a history of segregation. These conversations took on new urgency in 2020, when anti-racism protests spread across much of the United States following police gunfire.

Glenn kelman

Over the next year and a half, Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman has been one of the industry’s most vocal voices on the issue. Among other things, he pledged to hire more color agents and called for an end to practices such as pocket lists that can be used to exclude potential buyers.

Taubman’s call for real estate websites to ditch crime data, therefore, appears to represent the latest development in a project that Redfin has been pursuing for some time now.

However, it remains to be seen how the industry might respond to such a call to action. For example, Zillow does not currently appear to display crime and safety data. On the other hand, Trulia – which Zillow owns – includes crime data cards on the lists.

Crime data is also available for purchase, which means brokerages, SEO services, and other tech companies are free to create tools that display this information to consumers.

Most portals, including Redfin, also include information on things like school quality, which have historically also been influenced by racial prejudice and which, at least theoretically, could influence consumers as much as the data. on crime. That is, there is a debate to be had about the role of data in real estate ads, and where to draw the line when it comes to providing information.

In the meantime, however, Taubman has indicated in his blog post that Redfin will carefully review any information it adds to the lists.

“People are hungry for more information to answer their real estate questions, and Redfin will continue to add more and more data to help them,” Taubman wrote. “We know that every time we add new data, however, it is possible that this will change if people decide to live and invest in a neighborhood, and to do so in a way that is affected by historical biases. and current. “

Update: This post has been updated after posting with information about Realtor.com’s decision to remove crime data.

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