2013-11-13 / Front Page

Study: Sex offenders hurt sales

By Michael Buettner
NEWS EDITOR


Three sex offenders live in the Huntingcreek Hills subdivision, which near U.S. Route 10 and state Route 288. 
James Haskins/Chesterfield Observer Three sex offenders live in the Huntingcreek Hills subdivision, which near U.S. Route 10 and state Route 288. James Haskins/Chesterfield Observer A new study by a group of Virginia researchers suggests that when you’re researching the purchase of a home, there’s an item you might want to add to your list of things to check – the sex offender registry.

The study by four Longwood University professors of finance and economics, “Neighborhood Tipping and Sorting Dynamics in Real Estate: Evidence From the Virginia Sex Offender Registry,” found that registered sex offenders tend to cluster in certain neighborhoods, which suffer a loss of property values as a result.

Bennie Waller, professor of finance and real estate, said he and his colleagues were looking for a research topic on the general question of what factors affect housing prices. One member of the group, Scott Wentland, assistant professor of economics, had recently seen a study that showed a negative impact on housing values when a sex offender moves into a neighborhood.

The researchers obtained a detailed database of sex offender registrations from the Virginia State Police and another database of home sales information from the Central Virginia Multiple Listing Service, and started comparing the data. The researchers used standard statistical is analysis to control for many factors that can affect property values – including square footage of homes, time of year sold, and the unemployment rate – and were able to isolate the effect of sex offenders in the neighborhood.

“When we ran it, it came up real significant,” Waller said.

Initially, they found that the presence of a registered sex offender within 0.1 mile of a home resulted in an average 7 percent decrease in the selling price and 80 percent increase in the time the home takes to sell.

The researchers further found that if one or two more offenders move into the same neighborhood, there’s little additional negative impact. However, the impact reaches a “tipping point,” according to the study, if four or more offenders live within a quarter-mile radius of one another: “A cluster of four or more offenders leads [on average] to a sharp $25,099 (or 16 percent) drop in price of nearby homes.”

The effect is even greater on homes that are geared toward families with children, which the researchers approximated by looking at homes with three or more bedrooms. The study found an average negative impact on those home prices of “approximately $43,765, or 26 percent, associated with living near a cluster of four or more sex offenders.”

In addition, “A cluster of four or more nearby offenders increases a home’s time on market by 164 days, or 147 percent, on average,” according to the study.

The study also found that offenders do tend to cluster in certain neighborhoods. One reason may be that property owners in neighborhoods with less family-oriented housing have less of a disincentive to rent or sell to offenders.

“If you have a lot of children in your neighborhood, it’s probably going to affect your value a lot,” Waller said. “If there are not a lot of children, the impact is going to be marginal.”

Another possible factor in clustering is information-sharing among offenders. Malcolm Taylor, regional operations chief for the Virginia Department of Corrections’ Central Region Community Corrections office, noted that “in the process of being supervised and participating in whatever treatment the court has ordered,” some offenders develop a sort of peer network.

“They give each other job leads, or perhaps residential options,” Taylor said. “Sometimes they go in together to pay the rent for a place” because none of them has enough income on their own.

That may be the biggest factor affecting where offenders live – simple economics. Of the nearly 300 registered offenders currently listed in Chesterfield County, for example, 31 percent are listed as unemployed. Another 24 percent are listed as self-employed, most of them in unskilled labor occupations such as lawn or handyman services. An additional 4 percent are listed as retired.

The Sex Offender Registry itself may contribute to the high unemployment among offenders, Taylor suggested. A few years ago, the offender’s place of employment was added to the information available on the registry, and some offenders lost their jobs because their employers didn’t want to be associated with them, he said.

“Sometimes you do something that’s positive in terms of providing information to the public, but it can have negative consequences for the people we’re trying to help and monitor,” Taylor said.

Having little or no income from employment, many offenders live in low-grade multifamily housing, including older motels and mobile home parks in some of the county’s most economically depressed areas.

Of the offenders who live in single-family housing in Chesterfield, a clear majority live in the northern and eastern portions of the county.

The Observer found concentrations of offenders in the adjoining Quail Oaks and Central Park subdivisions off Jefferson Davis Highway; the Kings Forest neighborhood off Iron Bridge Road; several adjacent subdivisions along Dakins Drive off Courthouse Road near the Powhite Parkway interchange; the Lost Forest and Kendale Acres neighborhoods near the intersection of Hopkins Road and Centralia Road; and several adjoining subdivisions in the vicinity of the Courthouse Road/Genito Road intersection.

Perhaps surprisingly, the study suggests that clustering of offenders could have an overall positive effect for homeowners by concentrating the impact in a limited number of less family-oriented neighborhoods.

Waller said he believes the study shows clearly that “when children are involved, there’s more impact to the homeowner” from having registered offenders living nearby, especially violent sex offenders. “I think that if there were a violent sex offender in your neighborhood and you have children, maybe you should be concerned,” he said.

The Virginia Sex Offender and Crimes Against Minors Registry, maintained by the State Police, is online at sex-offender.vsp.virginia.gov/sor/.

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