Santa Clara, CA – Two of the biggest real estate search engines won’t put crime statistics on their websites out of concern that the data perpetuates racial inequity and bias during the home-buying process.
Realtor.com removed the crime statistics it previously offered from its pages in early December, according to a letter posted to the company’s website by CEO David Doctorow on Dec. 13.
Doctorow said in his letter that he had found “the ability to afford and own a home can be unjustly limited by one’s race, ethnicity, or other personal characteristics.”
He wrote that black, Hispanic, and Asian homebuyers received unequal treatment at every step of the home-buying process.
“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,” the head of Realtor.com wrote.
He wrote that the solution was to remove the current crime map layer their site and “rethink the safety information we share on Realtor.com and how we can best integrate it as part of a consumer’s home search experience,” according to the letter.
The same day that Realtor.com announced it was taking down the crime statistics that were so popular on its pages, competitor real estate search engine Redfin announced it would not be adding crime statistics to its own site.
“We recently decided not to add neighborhood crime data to Redfin.com,” Redfin Chief Growth Officer Christian Taubman announced in a post to the company’s News page on Dec. 13.
“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 neighborhood,” Taubman explained in the post. “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.”
Then the Redfin executive threw out a challenge to industry competitors.
“We believe that Redfin – and all real estate sites – should not show neighborhood crime data,” Taubman wrote.
Taubman went on to explain that available crime data wasn’t useful because most crimes go unreported.
“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 wrote.