The Big Data Real Estate Controversy

The next weapon in home buying -- big data -- is here, and is not leaving its mark without controversy.

Real estate websites are now providing hyper-specific and localized demographic information about neighborhoods, such as crime statistics and school ratings, and their residents, including race and educational status, across the country, coined by the term "big data." StreetAdvisor, the leading site of its kind, goes as far as filtering resident data into personal identifiers, like "hipsters" and "gay and lesbian" and neighborhood characteristics, such as "neighborly spirit" "gym & fitness," according to Teke Wiggin of Inman news. Inman News recently ran a detailed exposé on the rise of super-local demographics data as well as its role undermining real estate laws and agents.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits "steering," defined as influencing the make up of a geographic location by providing its demographic information. While real estate agents have been complying with the anti-steering law since 1968 with the passing of the Civil Rights Act, these websites seem to circumvent this law that pertains to them as well. Many agents are weary of the legalities and fairness of information provided on the sites to not only the neighborhoods and their residents, but to the role of agents across the country.

Home buyers on the other hand are welcoming the new data given to them. The current mindset prevalent today is if the information is there why not use it?

We live in an age of efficiency and accessibility, always having immediate access to media content, communication, personal information on social media, and now neighborhood demographics. One site, Relocality, even matches a home buyer with a neighborhood best suited to one's lifestyle based on information provided on one's Facebook page.

The interconnectivity of new media and our personal lives has been exposed in the form of hyper-local demographic information and at the expense of real estate agents and Fair Housing. Do you think it is fair for neighborhood data to be shared or are agents correct in their backlash? Leave your comments below, I'd love to hear them.