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Another real estate badmouthing of Durham -- it's time to call our Wake Co. friends on it

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:

I don't believe it is necessary to attempt to enhance your city by putting down another one. I also believe it is important to view the Triangle as a region, particularly when addressing the myriad of challenges we face from transportation and the environment to water and sewer.... And yet when real estate brokers, who are often in positions of leadership in their communities, continue to look upon a vital and surrounding city with disdain, that makes such cooperation even more difficult.

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.)


Eugene Brown

Thanks, Kevin. I will take credit for writing the letter. Thanks for leaving out the name of the new Cary resident and her Durham employer.It is hard to believe that this sort of nonsense continues. Eugene Brown, Distinctive Properties


Thank you for posting this topic on your site. As a Triangle Realtor and Durham "cheerleader" for 15 years, I can confirm that this phenomenon is very real. We Durham Realtors have been combatting it vigorously; sometimes we're successful, sometimes not. Each area of the Triangle has its own distinctive feel and appeal. I agree with you completely: let each area compete on its own appeal and merits absent slanderous (and woefully out of touch) innuendo by some (less-) professional Realtors.

Frank Hyman

In a similar vein, I attended a gathering of artists recently. One had lived in Carrboro for a number of years and admitted to seeing the light and had moved to Durham some years back. Another artist who now lives in Carrboro, was very interested to hear that, because she was considering moving to Durham as well.

Wonder what these folks had heard from Realtors and others before they chose Carrboro.

Frank Hyman

Durhamite For Life

I hate this elitist attitude by those who stay sometimes just 10 miles away. They want to make others feel inferior, to make themselves feel superior. I have learned to say a resounding "whatever" because it seems they want to insight some type of emotion from spreading this propoganda. They live in other cities and clog our highways each day to get to Research Triangle Park (which happens to be in Durham! - There is no city called RTP), and Duke and all of our other great employment institutions. While here, they also soak up our resources. If your city is so great, work where you live. To these people I say I hope your commute is long, and don't let the carbon monoxide poison kill you. Meanwhile, I'll just smile as I take a back road and get to my job in 5 minutes.


Our family just purchased a home in Durham, but were indeed encouraged to look at other communities, at first by our realtor until she realized it was a lost cause, but also by friends that live in Wake County - even last week they asked us whether or not we were sure we wanted to "risk" living in Durham. In making the decision where to live we did our research, and Durham always came out on top as compared to surrounding communities. Cary never stood a chance...


As far as I'm concerned if someone is happy settling in Cary and not even curious about looking at Durham, then Cary can have 'em. Durham is one of the most interesting and diverse places I have ever lived.

Let's keep on drawing people that want urban living and let Cary take the suburbanites.

Let's keep Durham Disreputable.

Reyn Bowman

It is very hard to get a sense of this from anecdotal comments. That's why for years, DCVB has deployed mystery shops on real estate agents and others as well as generalizable surveys of residents in nearby counties.

We've come a long way in isolating what we call virulent hard negatives (1 in 10) and innoculating soft water cooler negatives.

Unfortunately, as great as new development launches are, they give only a momentary bump to image and long term impact tends to be silo in nature. Thus the common comment, "its not really Durham."

Stigmas are very complex and irrational things.

The two tactics that show sustainable impact are flooding the communication channels and empowering residents with perspective and balanced information. But logic only gets you so far.

A critical element is polite but crucial confrontations which creates a type of perceived justice backlash to the negatives and this is where Durham Image Watch rolls up its sleeves.

Two things we know won't work. Being Pollyanna or sticking our heads in the sand.


The Cary person strikes me as getting what they wanted bc if they like it there, they wouldn't dig D-town.

What I want to know is who takes a realtor's opinion as the sole basis for their relocation decision?

You really don't have to do more then a few minutes on-line research to crack through the anti-Durham BS.

Blue Griffin

This sort of smearing by realtors has been going on for quite some time, whether it be overt, as your excerpt shows, or the more common "crime of omission", whereby realtors claim to not know about anything west of Brier Creek. That being said, it's not only realtors that fan the flames in one direction, but local news agencies and word-of-mouth from the Caryites, Raleighites, and the denizens of the myriad indistinguishable pods that ring Wake County. Any recent transplant not only has realtors guiding them east, but coworkers, friends, and the nightly news.
In the interest of full disclosure, I count myself as a probable contributing force to the negative perception of our fine city. I always state a caveat to anyone interested in moving here. Durham is not without its warts, and I have a clear-eyed view of the foibles and inefficiency of our city government, the reality that one must be always be prepared to be the target of petty crime, and the fact that not every place is 'nice'. If the person in question has their soul firmly rooted in a world of daisy chain cul-de-sacs, they will balk. And I've saved them a couple of years of the unmitigated terror of living in a marvelously rich, diverse, and occasionally sketchy, city.


The thing I love about Durham over Raleigh is the lack of congested traffic and sprawling neighborhoods and oversized shopping plazas. The more people who figure out that Durham is a great place to live, the more congested and sprawling it will become. So I say let the scaredy-cats and nay-sayers stay where they are so we can continue to enjoy this great community as it is.

Nathaniel H. Goetz

When my wife and I relocated to the Triangle almost four, the agent assigned to us by her company (and one that we subsequently dropped) almost refused to show us Durham. When she finally did, we drove up to Southpoint. While we were at a red light (Herndon and Fayetteville), she told us firmly to "roll up our windows because there are so many gangs around the area." True story! It illustrates the point, albeit in a light hearted way, that some agents are acting in such a manner highlighted in other above comments and in Kevin's story. We chose Durham and love it. I am not worried about bad mouthing. The beauty of the Triangle is that there is a place for everyone to live. If folks want to live in Cary, great! Durhamites make no apologies about our city and have the maturity to let such comments slide right off our backs so we can continue enjoying the Bull City and all it has to offer.


To the extent that some realtors fail to live up to their legal/ethical/professional obligations, by all means call them out on it.

But I really don't think we can lay this at realtors' feet any more than all the other people in the area that bad-mouth Durham. Almost every future (now current) co-worker that I spoke with before relocating here told me to move "anywhere but Durham". (I didn't listen.) Our realtor, on the other hand, couldn't have been more helpful, and got us into a neighborhood that we LOVE.


I'm glad to see that Nate has shared his experience - I previously heard his story while we attended Neighborhood College together this past Spring.

I also recall that there were three realtors in our class (out of 20) who all shared their similar experiences with Wake county realtors bad mouthing Durham. I've even encountered an out-of-town realtor, in my neighborhood as the listing agent for a property, who had the arrogance to bad mouth Durham to me. So I guess Durham isn't good enough to live in, but she's happy to take her commission. Some people are so annoying...

As for my wife and I, we moved here four years ago from the suburbs in CA, and we LOVE IT here. Won't ever leave except feet first on a gurney.


Out of curiosity, at what point is it libel and at what point is there a touch of validity?

Don't get me wrong, I love the urbanist feel of durham, but for instance: a quick plugging-in of cities (Durham/Cary) in the NC sex offender registry ( ) -- utilizing the same radius -- gets you wildly different densities.

...I'm just sayin'.

Ken K

Myths often have basis in fact, for example... Durham's school system. My wife is entering her 7th year teaching in Durham Public Schools. She's taught now in three of Durham's middle schools. After hearing her "war stories" all these years, I'm nervous about my younger children as they age into the middle schools here. I live in a "starter home" neighborhood with dozens of kids aged newborn-10 or so. They seem to be well served by the neighborhood elementary school. But there are very few kids who are middle school or (even rarer) high school age. And the schools are the reason for that; many families move out of my neighborhood when the kids enter sixth grade. Or they find a charter school, private school, etc.

I'm not panicking, but Triangle newcomers might easily do so.

I, too, have stories of corporate colleagues who are smugly ensconced in Cary and Raleigh, and I think they need to be there (!). I love living in Durham, and that's after 14 years in Chapel Hill. I boost Durham all the time, everywhere I go. But we do need to acknowledge weaknesses and reasons why "outsiders" view Durham as they do.

This is a lively discussion, keep it going!


Growing up in Mississippi gives one a keen sense of what it means to live in a place with a "reputation". Even as a sixth-grader, I can remember being indignant when an older gentleman pointedly looked at my feet during an out-of-state field trip and said to me, "You guys are from Mississippi? But you're wearing shoes!"

I moved out of Mississippi to Chicago, and now I live in Chapel Hill simply due to work convenience. I loved both my former locales for quite different reasons, and I see Durham as being a fantastic amalgamation of the urban sensibility for which Chicago quickens your blood and the rural zen for which Mississippi grounds your soul.

I hope that global energy concerns strangle the suburbamania and diversiphobia (forgive my word creations) that perpetuate attitudes similar to the realtor's. One day I feel the "secret" about Durham's unique character will get out to the masses.

The growing influence of social media on public perception should actually help speed this if knowledgeable Durhamites continue to identify and correct misconceptions. Active online reputation management can bypass the old-guard elite who have nothing to lose by perpetuating historical stereotypes.


There's also a more negative perception of North Durham than of South Durham. Many people are willing to pay twice as much for a house in the safe, identical neighborhoods near South Point than venture north of 85. They can then say the live in Durham, but without having to experience all of that yucky diversity.

Patrick Morrison

As a recent transplant from Los Angeles to Durham, I am pleased to say that our realtor, Jamie Rhodes, made zero distinctions about which area to live in. Kudos to her. We're pretty pleased with our home in Durham.


I just closed on a house in Durham, but I remember when I first arrived here last Fall and started looking around, nearly everyone I worked with (who live in Cary, Apex and Raleigh) referred to Durham as "the hood" or "dangerous"

...Once I started looking around for myself I found Durham to be coolest town of the triangle -- but then I like diversity, reasonable housing prices and people who accept others for who they are and not what they are.

I'm convinced that at the heart of the Durham-hating is simple, old fashioned racism.



I think the usual epithets thrown at Durham are: "It's druggy," "It's a gangland," and "It's full of guns." As others have rightly pointed out, these are merely codewords for white racism running rampant in the minds of non-Durhamites in Wake and Orange County. (Don't get me started on Chapel Hill righteousness.) In my humble experience, no one has ever popped "It's full of perverts who will rape your children" before. Dismissing Durham on the grounds you propose just brings us back to race and economics. Go ahead and check the registry yourself. People who choose a town to live in according to sex offender registries suffer from sicko sadomasochistic fantasies about their own children, are inherently mistrustful of other people and thus make for poor neightbors, obviously require guidance on parenting and how to supervise their own children, and delude themselves in thinking that in their lilly-white suburb nothing like that will happen to their little Johnny and Jane. If that's what is important to people, then let them live elsewhere, I say.


Great article Kevin. Its good to see all of the positive posts about Durham, NC USA. As a Durhamite I too have encountered Durham naysayers on many occasions. I've even been asked "can you walk down the street at night". I think if the people hate Durham so much they shouldn't visit. Durham is just doing just fine w/o them. And the hypocritical thing about it is the people of Raleigh focus on Durham's crime so much they fail to realize their own city's increasing crime rate.

Durham Bull Pen

I have to agree with Syd above.

It is a form of racial steering. The "code words" are there. It infuriates and frustrates me to no end that people won't call it what it is.


I relocated to the Triangle two years ago; classic corporate relo, in which they provided a site visit to look around and a second one to go house-hunting. The Cary-based Fonville-Morrsey realtor assigned to us outright refused to take us to Durham -- not SouthPointe, not Treyburn, and certainly not an in-town neighborhood.

After three hours of driving around, looking at endless identical tract homes in Wake and Orange County PUD's, we finally told the agent to take us back to our hotel.

I had already researched Durham online, joined several listservs, and new a few of the in-town neighborhoods. We went to Nana's for dinner that Saturday night, and had a lovely time. Tried to drive around a bit after dark, but headed back to RTP to sleep.

The next morning, realizing that we were to fly back to Boston that afternoon never having really seen Durham, we hopped in the rental car and went for brunch at Elmo's. Chatted up a nice young couple on the way out of the restaurant, and they understood exactly what had happened. They spent 30 minutes with us, showing us around some neighborhoods, including Forest Hills (where they lived), and they gave us contact info for Courtney James, who at that time also worked for FM Realty. (She's started a new firm since then:

The upshot: Courtney helped us find a house in Trinity Heights, walking distance to so many cool things, great neighbors (yah, the occasional Dukie bender...), bike to church, hang out on the porch and watch the world go by...

A lot of my work colleagues ended up in Wake County, and most of them like it just fine. We should focus on making our little town the best it can be, and let the like-minded folks mostly find us the way all good things are found -- word-of-mouth!


Toby: I love your story. Thank you.


I love Durham, I would live there if my job and/or friends were there. So I live East Raleigh. You can't get a West Wake County Realtor to show you houses in East Wake County, let alone somewhere outside of Wake County! Heavens no! It took a couple Realtors, but eventually I found a house closer to Durham's price range and urban feel.

Though not my concern, I do have to admit school test scores can be an uphill argument for Durham. Sites like show pretty clearly that Wake's urban magnet schools are pretty darn good. Not to say that the Durham schools are a tragedy, it may be a factor that play into decisions when relocating.

Nathaniel H. Goetz


See my comment above. Looks like the two of us had a similar experience and they were both through Cary's FM Realty. Until now, I have been reluctant to say which firm it was, but, after seeing that we were not the only ones who this happened to, am quite happy to reveal the company responsible.


It's a constant battle for many of us who live in Durham. We have a group of friends that are mostly decided on living elsewhere besides DUrham. Sometimes I figure, let those people move to those other areas. They belong there anyways. Reason why Durham has so many great people is that it attracts that particular type of person.

When we first were looking to move here 3 years ago, I spent alot of my time in All you read about is the negatives on Durham. SO my mind was already set on not living in Durham when I got here. I looked in Raleigh and Chapel Hill. My realtor, who worked out of Durham, asked: "Have you ever considered Durham?". She then showed me some homes and showed the great accessibility of the neighborhood and to top it off, reminded me that I'd be a 10 minute backroad drive away from my job. Also a 20 minute bike ride on the tobacco trail! For obvious reasons, we chose Durham and do not regret it one bit.

We are actually now selling this townhome and buying our first home in Colonial Village. Another area I thought I would never end up in but a great opportunity to get more involved in the community you live in while living in a an older bungalow with high ceilings, front porch, etc etc. Characteristics that you would hardly get living in box cutter areas of Cary, Holly Springs, Apex, etc etc. We move into that house this weekend and can't wait to start making an impact in our community!


I relocated to Durham after Hurricane Katrina. I also got some comments from co-workers and other random people as to why I chose Durham over the other Triangle communities. When they brought up Durham's 'bad' schools and 'high' crime rate, I'd laugh in their faces. People around here don't know what bad schools or high crime are. What can I say? Durham's got a soul that the other areas to the east can only pine about.



There is plenty of diversity in South Durham. I am sick of hearing people say there is not. South Durham is nothing like Cary or North Raleigh or Fuquay. Furthermore, it is also a very affordable place to live, not some expensive fantasyland.

The Gourmez

Just popping in to agree with anon! South Durham has plenty of character and diversity. I absolutely love Woodcroft where I live but that doesn't mean I don't love downtown Durham, too. Perhaps some people who live here do so to avoid other areas of Durham but I live here because I love all the trails and the rolling lawns between houses, condos, townhomes, etc. I don't consider myself to be separate from the rest of town, however. I just happen to live in the southwest section.

Cheryl Sewell

Our relocation realtor lived in Durham and wanted to show us homes there. We initially refused based on "hearsay." After the poor man drove us all over Wake county for 3 days to no avail, he handed us the listing book and told us to take a look for ourselves. We found the perfect house, but OH NO!, it's in Durham. When we showed him the listing, he laughed, told us it was less than 2 miles from his office in Durham and we would love it. We did, we do and have been happy in Durham for 14 years. Our son came through DPS unscathed and is now at App State. If new folks want to go live in cramped, congested Wake County, let 'em.


Great Post. We have encountered this 1st hand. We are foreigners living in Durham Downtown and love it here. But at our workplaces, meeting friends, this is a very frequently occurring conversation- " You live in Durham? Just don't get shot". I lived in Raleigh for 3 years and got mugged once and know of friends who were mugged at gunpoint etc. Cary has a huge immigrant population especially from my country of India and there is a typical stereotypical opinion of "Unsafe Durham" which they have heard from other locals, realtors and other sources. To each one his own You choose a certain lifestyle when you are in Durham and we love it. The growth in the past 2 years is phenomenal and We are hoping to be here till we are linked to the triangle.


Ditto what anon and The Gourmez said! My husband and I live in Durham in Woodcroft. We chose this area because it's close to my husband's office. Plus, we love all of the trees and the reasonable home prices. This neighborhood felt like home to me the first time I visited it and we're thrilled to live here.

That certainly doesn't mean that we shun the rest of Durham. We go downtown quite often to see shows & eat at locally-owned restaurants. We shop on 9th Street and visit the farmer's market. When friends or family come to visit, we always take them to local favorites like ATC, Locopops, the Museum of Life & Science, and Duke Gardens.

I would certainly love to live in many of the neighborhoods around downtown, but for now it's best for us to live down south. And that's okay. I'm happy to call myself a Durhamite, not just a Southern Durhamite.

ellen dagenhart

This sniping has been going on forever, certainly all during the nearly 30 years I've been in real estate. Back during the brief time I worked for a certain large Raleigh-based firm, all the relo clients *had* to work with the Raleigh agents before the Durham agents could - and you can just guess how many chose to look at Durham after that brainwashing. They were either hard-core intent on living in Durham or scared we would mug them.

Times do change & that business model wasn't too well-received by those in the western side of the Triangle. Stuff like that led me to change to a locally owned Durham-based firm. It's pretty sweet having a corner office in the corporate headquarters on Broad Street :-)Buy local!

Durham banker

It is not just realtors who are the issue. I deal in banking in Durham and due to some new regulations we cannot chose our appraisers. We ahve to use a 3rd party to select the appraisor. We have had serious issues with appraisor's from Cary coming in with values substantially under the contract price. It is causing some deals not to be done. I doubt any of these appraisers every stepped foot into Durham.


Echoing Durham Banker above, I was doing a refinance of rental property, and the appraiser who the bank initially hired (who specailized in rental property) refused to do the appraisals and quit after discovering that the properties were in Durham. Fortunately, the bank listened and hired a Durham appraiser after that.


I love living in Durham. As a matter of fact when I decided to work in Burlington four years ago, I consciously decided to continue to live in Durham and commute to Burlington everyday.

Durham reminds me of my hometown, Chicago. I grew up on the South Side and there are so many different types of people. I go to shop in Raleigh and Cary but it seems very cookie cutterish. Everything looks the same. Raligh and Cary reminds me of Schaumberg, Illinois.

As Durhamites, we need to continue to talk up our city and promote it in a positive light. Also, the schools need to improve and that will help. I am also happy that so much is being done to Downtown Durham. I am definitely a Durhamite for life.

Michael Bacon

I think this week will mark the turning point in the reputation battle. The news this week has given us two simple, clear words that should be more than enough to hit back at Raleigh every time this nonsense happens:

"terrorist cell."

Mopfaced Michael

I don't see why you are upset. I lived in Durham for a year. It is far worse than perceptions.

I understand you are a capitalist with a vested interest in trying to de-bunk the stigma for the sake of your property values, but let's be honest. Of the five states, and one District of Columbia, I have lived in, it is by far the worst crime-ridden hell hole out there. There is no other way to paint it without lying.

Sory to bust your litle bubble. But Durham makes Gary Indiana and Flint Michigan seem like Beverly Hills.

And Michael Bacon, Johnston County had the terrorist cell. Stop your cheerleading, you brainless mop who can't read a map. What county is Raleigh in? Oh, that's right, Wake.

God, I thought you hippies were at least somewhat intelligent.

Mopfaced Michael

You do realize I am kidding, right?:)

Though yeah, as a Raleighite, don't lump Johnston County in with us.....they are 'different.'

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