Buyers have always segregated themselves, now they don’t need our help

Broker Notebook

We have lived in the same neighborhood in two different houses for the last 32 years. According to the numbers, our neighborhood has a greater percentage of gay people living in it than 95 percent of the neighborhoods in the entire country.

If I try to do a Google search for neighborhoods with a large gay and lesbian population, my neighborhood does not come up, but I am confident that someday soon it will.

Retro homeownership image via Shutterstock.
Retro homeownership image via Shutterstock.

I had to do some serious digging to find the statistic on a website that has neighborhood demographics. Thirty years ago I am not sure I would have been able to find it anywhere.

Yet people, or at least people from the gay community, have been attracted to the neighborhood for decades and were somehow able to figure out it is a wonderful neighborhood. Several of my gay neighbors have lived in the area as long or longer than I have.

It has been a great place for us to live and to raise our children. I am not sure as a real estate licensee if I can even write about this or express such an opinion, but since I am not naming the neighborhood it should be all right.

Back in the old days supposedly real estate agents steered people into neighborhoods. Laws have been passed that forbid housing discrimination, and steering is illegal. I am required to take a course on fair housing every two years and pass a test, and there is a list of behaviors that can be considered violations of fair housing rules and laws.

The rules in place prevent me from saying much of anything about a neighborhood. There are some who believe that part of a real estate agent’s job is to be a neighborhood expert, and that being an expert should not be limited to architectural styles, neighborhood amenities and home values. Some even believe that the only way real estate agents add value is to be local neighborhood experts.

We finally have software that can become the neighborhood experts that real estate agents cannot be so that people can continue to segregate themselves based on income, religion or race or who they want to marry -- as they always have."

I am certain that some buyers have chosen not to work with me because I cannot recommend a decent neighborhood, and that is what they are looking for from a real estate agent.

If I have a home listed I cannot market it by saying that the neighborhood is a great place to raise children. But I can say that the home has a family room in it and even a master suite and a roll-in shower.

It isn’t against the law for websites with real estate listings on them to also provide demographic information and school test scores and crime rates, and even to make up playful names or terms for people living in the neighborhood. At last there is an easier way for people to quickly find a decent neighborhood without having to ask me.

People continue to have neighborhood preferences, and many segregate themselves by income and by choosing who they want to live near or which school they want to send their children to. Some people are afraid of my neighborhood and I am not sure why.

Buyers tell me they want to live in a “decent” neighborhood, or they tell me they want to live in the best neighborhood but that they cannot afford it. So they settle for second best, or the worst, depending upon who is rating it.

I had one young buyer who honestly believed she could make a difference in her chosen neighborhood and bought a home in an area that her family did not approve of.

Even though homes for sale in my neighborhood are never advertised as being located in a neighborhood with more gay people in it than are found in 95 percent of the neighborhoods in the entire county, we continue to attract gay and lesbian residents.

It isn’t discrimination or steering by real estate agents that is keeping people with low incomes out of the wealthier neighborhoods. It is the fact that they cannot afford to pay rent or to buy a home in those neighborhoods.

Modern technology will take some of the guesswork out of choosing the right neighborhood, and it will also let me off the hook so that maybe I won’t be asked to help choose a “decent” neighborhood in the future.

We finally have software that can become the neighborhood experts that real estate agents cannot be so that people can continue to segregate themselves based on income, religion or race, or who they want to marry — as they always have.

Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.


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