Due to fair housing laws, real estate agents can skate on thin ice if they discuss sensitive neighborhood information with homebuyers, such as demographic makeup, school quality and crime levels.

  • Real estate agents can use NeighborhoodScout's new subscription product to view three-year price forecasts (plus much more information) down to geographic areas covering 600 to 3,000 people.
  • The neighborhood information site has also unveiled a range of laser-sharp crime ratings as part of the offering.
  • NeighborhoodScout appears to have stopped feeding referrals to brokers in exchange for fees.

Due to fair housing laws, real estate agents can skate on thin ice if they discuss sensitive neighborhood information with homebuyers, such as demographic makeup, school quality and crime levels.

But one way they can cover their bases is to guide clients to the data.

NeighborhoodScout was already the most comprehensive source for consumers. Now the site has pulled further ahead.

The company, which has ended its referral program for brokers, has beefed up its neighborhood-discovery tool, making exceptionally detailed crime ratings and property price forecasts available on a subscription basis.

The goal of the site’s new offerings is to help homebuyers answer a difficult question: “Should I buy, hold or sell this property, at this location, at this time?”

What you get (and what it costs)

NeighborhoodScout users can view some data at the city level for free, including median home prices, racial makeup and crime level.

But to drill down as far as a census block group level (geographic areas that typically cover 600 to 3,000 people), and to unlock other data — such as school ratings and home price forecasts — users must pay a monthly fee: $80 a month for up to 50 reports or $160 for 100 reports (with even more detail).

Users can also view one limited neighborhood or property report for free, or buy a single full report for $10.

As part of the product rollout, NeighborhoodScout has unveiled laser-sharp crime scores and a better user interface. Subscribers can view not only general crime ratings for neighborhoods, but also scores on the risk of murder, robbery, assault, rape and other types of crime.

But the headline feature is a new tool that predicts property price changes over a three-year timeline, marking a new level of precision for price forecasts, according to Schiller.

“There can be dramatic differences in home price appreciation within a ZIP code, yet other tools and websites that forecast home price appreciation completely miss this nuanced information,” said NeighborhoodScout CEO Andrew Schiller.

The site’s “Scout Vision Trends & Forecasts” allow homebuyers to “pinpoint exactly which micro-neighborhoods in a ZIP code have the highest three-year appreciation potential,” as well as the likely security of their investment based on “past performance and micro-neighborhood fundamentals,” he said.

Buyer’s agents can use a NeighborhoodScout subscription “to provide real insight to the buyer backed by empirical data for the key hot buttons that the buyer has,” Schiller said by email.

For example, agents working with relocating buyers who want to compare local schools to their current schools could present NeighborhoodScout’s proprietary school ratings — which enable such comparisons because they are “nationally normalized,” Schiller said.

Or they might highlight the comparable neighborhoods that appear under property and neighborhood reports to pique a client’s interest in other communities that suit them.

Other tools — and potential problems

Weiss Analytics and RPR are among other tools that provide local price forecasts.

Homebuyers want a full picture of neighborhoods, but some experts worry that mixing sensitive data with real estate sites could have a discriminatory impact on classes protected under fair housing laws.

“We have received no complaints on this, since the ethnicity, race and ancestry data are already publicly available,” Schiller said.

Zillow Group recently wiped traffic-light coding from its school ratings following an article that questioned the practice.

NeighborhoodScout used to feed prescreened referrals from its site to partner brokers in exchange for referral fees.

But the site has “discontinued the program to focus on our core value of NeighborhoodScout analytics to deliver insights for decision-making available nowhere else, at any price,” Schiller said.

Email Teke Wiggin.

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