Are websites increasing racial and economic segregation?

It’s been 10 years since journalist Bill Bishop began writing about “the big sort” and five years since the publication of his book. Amazon summarizes Bishop’s thesis:

Armed with startling new demographic data, he made national news in a series of articles showing how Americans have been sorting themselves into alarmingly homogeneous communities — not by region or by state, but by city and even neighborhood. Over the past three decades, we have been choosing the neighborhood (and church and news show) compatible with our lifestyle and beliefs.

Yesterday Inman News, which is widely read in the real estate industry, published the first part of a four-part article contending that the ready availability of neighborhood crime data and other local information is aggravating residential segregation.

Increasingly, homebuyers are basing their real estate decisions on growing easy-to-access online data, undermining the traditional influence that real estate agents and marketers have had on real estate decision-making.

Real estate agents face this new fact-based consumer everyday. For example, many bristled after the listing portal RealtyTrac recently tacked the locations of sex offenders and toxic dumps onto its listing pages. Agents know how this plays out and reacted accordingly.

Imagine “putting red flags in every home near a sex offender,” said Steve Clarke, an Orem, Utah-based agent, about the RealtyTrac data rollout.

Indeed, the spread of data will make many agents’ lives more difficult, with buyers seizing on powerful statistics to quickly dismiss or latch onto areas or listings.

There’s too much nonsense in the quoted paragraphs to unpack all of it, but my favorite is “undermining the traditional influence that real estate agents and marketers have had on real estate decision making.”

You can get a real-world measure of how influential these sites are on buyers’ decisions by heading to Homefacts and punching in any address in some recently-hot neighborhoods, say Ukrainian Village, East Village or – as pictured above – Andersonville.

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