Bad Data, Sexual Offenders and Property Values

Question everything. Always.

You can search for sexual offenders in Charlottesville and Albemarle (and the entire Commonwealth of Virginia); but how do you know if the data is accurate?

Now that sexual offender data display is becoming more commonplace, how long until consumers start to eliminate areas outright because one sexual offender is nearby? What recourse do homeowners have?

Story after story shows that consumers don’t seem to mind that the big real estate sites don’t always have the most current or accurate real estate listings. Zillow is said to be a “starting point” in the process; but what if they end up being the only point consumers (wrongly) reference? It seems that many of my clients warily use Zillow, but I also know that they understand that Zillow is but one point in the research process and that all information on the internet needs to be vetted.

Sellers already care when the Zestimate for their home is absurdly and wrongly low – and they have no viable recourse to remedy said Zestimate. What recourse would homeowners have if the real estate search sites they use allow searchers to, say, filter out homes that are within one mile of a sexual offender?

What does one do about inaccurate sex offender data? It’s fairly easy for me to demonstrate how a zestimate is crap. It’s another thing for me as a real estate professional representing my clients to research the current and accurate location and then discover whether the offender is a violent offender or an innocuous one.

A study from a few years ago noted that sex offenders’ presence may devalue a home by 17%.

They find a reduction in housing prices of 17% within a tenth of a mile of an offender’s home, and find significant changes in price up to a third of a mile.

What if the referenced sexual offender is no longer there? Is Zillow (or whichever data provider, but they’re the big dog) liable?

Inman News brings this story back to the fore with their story yesterday. Sexual offenders’ presence tends to elicit binary responses – either “yes, I’m willing to risk (whether personal or financial) living close to a sexual offender or no, I’m not willing to risk it. And Inman poses the question:

But even if the data is accurate, buyers might misinterpret it. Many offenders have not committed crimes that are as nearly as heinous as many might initially assume.

* If you’re a client or potential client, ask me for a story about a sexual offender in Charlottesville whose crime and presence in a neighborhood almost caused my clients to not buy.

There are nuances to data that demand more than a binary response. Is this the result that we want?

The data also could help herd offenders into enclaves, depressing home values in some neighborhoods and scaring away families with children.Research published by four professors from Longwood University in Farmville, Va., in late 2013 found that sex offenders tend to cluster together, and that such clustering increased from 1999 to 2009 in Virginia.

Read the whole story.

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  1. Simon Campbell May 2, 2014 at 13:53

    You make a very good point here. The first impression of seeing that a sexual offender is within a 1 mile radius of a property is “Oh no, how do I protect my children? Will they be safe if I let them play outside?” etc. The reality with the registration system is that a teenager whose stupid friends convince him to streak through his neighborhood and is caught is a “sex offender.” If Joe blow takes a leak when walking home from the bar and is caught, he is a sex offender too.

    Perhaps the guidelines which establish what is or is not a sex offender needs to be refined.

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