Industry Urged to Tackle Inaccurate Crime Data

December 15, 2021
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Two prominent American property portals have urged a rethink on the use of neighbourhood crime data.

Christian Taubman, Chief Growth Officer at Redfin, suggested that all real estate websites should refrain from what he suggested is inaccurate information.

In a recent blog post, he wrote: “We recently decided not to add neighbourhood crime data to Redfin.com. We were considering this because we’re very much focused on answering all the questions people have when they’re considering a home purchase, and we know that one of these questions is whether they’ll feel safe in a given home or neighbourhood.”

“But the data available don’t allow us to speak accurately to that question, and given the long history of redlining and racist housing covenants in the United States there’s too great a risk of this inaccuracy reinforcing racial bias.”

He noted that Redfin has learned, through its research, that there’s real variety in how people define and evaluate safety, and that it doesn’t align with purely crime-based data.

“When we surveyed people about what they want to know about a neighbourhood, they define safety in a number of different ways: people say they care whether there’s trash on the street, care solely about violent crime, or care whether they are going to frequently see people who are homeless.”

He said that even if you use crime as an indicator of safety, there are reasons to doubt the usefulness of the data available.

“Most crimes in the United States go unreported, and most reported crimes go unsolved. The fact that most crimes are missing creates a real possibility that the crimes that show up in the data set skew one way or another. And the fact that most reported crimes go unsolved means that some of the crimes being reported in fact may not be crimes. If you’re extracting data at the neighborhood level, the risk of these gaps leading to inaccuracy becomes high.”

He added that to get around the gaps with reported crimes, the main other data source we considered was the National Crime Victimization Survey from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

By virtue of being a survey, this has the advantage of being able to capture both officially reported and unreported crimes. However, also by virtue of being a survey, if there’s racial bias in respondents’ answers this will get reflected directly in the data, he wrote.

“People are hungry for more information to answer their real estate questions, and Redfin will continue to add more and more data to help with that.”

“Each and every time we add data to Redfin.com we will consider the accuracy and likely impact of that change. Sometimes that will result in us deciding not to add data to the site, and sometimes that will result in us deciding to add the data. In this case we’re confident that the crime data that are available today ought not to be on Redfin or any other real estate site."

David Doctorow, Chief Executive Officer of Realtor.com, also wrote that earlier this month that his portal had removed the crime map layer to rethink the safety information it shares, and how it can best be integrated as part of the property search experience.

He said: “In the weeks and months ahead, we plan to examine closely what neighbourhood safety means for buyers and renters who use our site, so we can reimagine how we integrate safety data on Realtor.com.

“Our goal is to ensure we are providing consumers with the most valuable, fair and accurate neighbourhood data so they can make informed decisions about where they want to rent or purchase their next home.”

He added that his portal has been working hard to break down the hurdles of gender, sexual orientation and religion, to create a level real estate playing field.

“As a relative newcomer to the real estate industry, I’ve been struck by how entrenched this problem is. Stories abound about Black, Hispanic and Asian homebuyers receiving unequal treatment, starting with their ability to see whatever homes they like, and continuing through to the appraisal and mortgage processes. At virtually every step of the way, too often people of color find hurdles in their path, making it difficult to turn their dreams of home ownership into reality.”

He said that we cannot let more years go by and accept the same inequities to persist in our industry.

“Consider this an open invitation to senior leaders in real estate to come together to agree on meaningful ways to address fair housing in our country. Of course, we can’t solve a problem overnight that’s been centuries in the making. But together, we can make a tangible difference in the lives of many people in the years ahead.”

December 15, 2021
Andrew is an experienced media and content professional, with extensive publishing experiences throughout Southeast Asia and in the United Kingdom. He has worked on the editorial and content operations for property portals including PropertyGuru and Juwai. He was also the Publishing Director for the Thai language edition of BusinessWeek magazine.

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