It's no secret that there've been mutterings for years about the perceptions of Durham that get painted by our friends and neighbors to the east in Wake County.
After all, studies of regional and national perceptions of Durham performed by the Durham Convention and Visitors' Bureau find that Durhamites quite like it here, and that nationally, Durham has a great reputation... except to the immediate east, where Wake residents have the lowest perception of the Bull City, an image painted by fears of crime and schools.
Those fears can become great cannon fodder in the home-pushing business, as folks relocating to the Triangle hear -- sometimes a whisper, sometimes a roar -- why they shouldn't live in Durham.
It's a notion many of us in Durham would take exception to. But it's a notion that drags on in the minds of many, including some of those in the Wake County real estate business who profit from attracting relocators to their neck of the Triangle.
The Indy looked at this a couple of years back, calling around to real estate agents under the guise of wanting to relocate to the Triangle, and recorded comments that were often hostile to the Bull City.
A local notable passed along the following correspondence to me the other day. At their request I'm keeping all the names involved mum, but it tells an all-too-common tale on what gets said about this city at times.
I had the privilege of sitting next to one of your new [staff at a local event.] We had a delightful conversation until it turned to her purchase of her home. I am not sure who her real estate broker was, but she bought in Cary which is fine. There is, however, one problem. I asked her if she considered Durham and her response was that her Cary broker told her Durham was not the town for her since it was unsafe, infested with crime and had poor public schools....
I have been battling this stigmatizing of Durham for over 30 years. I thought that with the public acknowledgment of Durham's amazing overall progress, school improvement and reduction of crime that this would be put to rest. But alas, the distortions and mendacities about Durham continue.
Several points are work mentioning:
Forty years ago it was a civil violation for real estate brokers to engage in "steering," which was showing houses to clients based upon the racial make-up of certain neighborhoods. This odious tactic was used primarily to prevent black families from moving into white neighborhoods. Thankfully, for most realtors and their clients, racial steering is a thing of the past.
One can argue, however, that what some Raleigh and Cary brokers are engaged in now is "regional steering" where potential buyers are encouraged not to even consider buying in Durham because of stereotyping our city.
There's little I can add to such a compelling argument -- except to note that, three years after the Indy caught multiple Realtors steering an undercover caller quickly away from Durham, it's still going on.
Mind you, as our correspondent above notes, there's no one right (or wrong) place for everyone. Different cities have their different appeals.
But they should stand on their appeals and strengths, not cat-calls and innuendo.
As I've noted here before, Durham's reputation does tend to draw in folks from urban areas disproportionately. Per capita, we draw more relocators from Manhattan and the cores of Chicago, Boston and L.A. than does Wake County. Long Islanders and northern Chicago 'burbers, plus those from places like Phoenix, Orlando and Tampa, choose Wake disproportionately.
And to some extent, I've credited our unique culture and the growth of local institutions with the "benign neglect" our reputation brings.
Still, I suspect even someone seeking the diversity, history, culture and feeling of Durham could find themselves steered away to a new subdivision in a Cary or Wake Forest by certain real estate pro's.
If you've had a similar experience, share it in the comments below.
And if you're really up for a challenge, why not try repeating the Indy's experiment? Call around to your friendly neighborhood Realtor in Wake or Johnston County, act like you're relocating to the area, and see what happens when you suggest Durham.
(If you do, send your account to me in email. We won't publish the name of the real estate agent or firm -- I'd encourage you to report any real estate professionals you thought acting in violation of fair housing laws directly to the state real estate board -- but we will publish the best stories of what gets told.)