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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.)



The crime statistics just came out in the Durham News today (Saturday). Compared to Greensboro and Winston-Salem Durham is very mild when it comes to crime. I have always heard from from my cousins who live in Winston-Salem and Greensboro that there was a lot of crime in those cities.

Again the comments people make about Durham is purely racist in nature because of a higher African-American population that resides here. It is totally not based in fact.

The powers that be at the city and county level need to do a better job of PR when it comes to our city. Also the schools need to improve. People will not move to a city if the schools are not top-notched or if they feel the schools are not top-notched. Because all of the schools test scores are online at people moving to the area can look and see how DPS is doing. And honestly, it does not look good,I do not care what the school board or what the superintendent says.

Nate O.

I am curious to what extent these issues arise *within* Durham as well. Is it any different for a pro-Durham agent (or friend, or booster, or whatever) to say "well, you probably want to look in Trinity Park, etc., and Cleveland Heights has some cool stuff, but be careful about going too much farther east," even though there may well be some blocks/streets/houses that would be a good fit for this person? Sure a blanket statement that generalizes a larger area/population probably does more harm, but how is referring to "good blocks" and "bad blocks" much better?

Case in point: my future wife moved to Durham in 2003 and we looked at a wide variety of places for her to live. While getting a guided tour of the big apartment complex near Mark Jacobson on Garrett, the on duty agent actually, with a straight face, described central Durham as "the circle of death". Of course, his complex was outside of that radius and thus much safer. This became a story we told our friends, and it mostly elicited laughs because of the over-the-top drama of the statement, but I wouldn't be surprised if others in the Durham city limits had a similar experience. Footnote: she rented a cool historic house (neighborhood grocery) in Old West Durham, and we now live between Lakewood and Duke Forest.


Did anyone check out the article in the Durham section of the N&O today? It further debunks the myth that Durham's crime rate is worse than similarly-sized cities like Greensboro and Winston-Salem....which by the way, have even more liberal annexation policies than Durham. Statistics often lie when cities are allowed to annex wealthy subdivisions off to one or two directions far away from the urban crime core.

People look at statistics these days, but they also listen to what others say about Durham, even though they may have never been here. Thank the recent growth rate in South Durham for the lower crime numbers. While we're at it, Durham might as well go ahead and annex the rest of the county south of I40, and all the area west of 15-501 bypass, including the site for the proposed new high school.


A Durham cop explained to me once that the way crimes are reported in Raleigh is somewhat different than in Durham, which makes Durham look more crime-ridden. I'd love to know if there's any truth to that. In any case, I live in Durham and I wouldn't live anywhere else in the Triangle. I have friends who live in Chapel Hill/Carrboro. One of them was in her house when it was broken into at night and the other had people walking through her back yard shooting guns. Most cities, especially those on a major interstate corridor have a heaping helping of crime.

As to those who choose where they live based on their realtor's recommendation, I'm not so sure we need people who can't think for themselves populating Durham.

A little late to the party, I 'spose. As a REALTOR and recent home owner- I love this town! I live North Durham, and work in South Durham.

This town has the small town charm with the amenities of the big city. I used to hear the trash talk all the time. With DPAC, the new downtown, Main Street, Southpoint- not to mention all of the other places, we've actually got the upper hand. Real estate here hasn't taken as big (property values) as in other places close by.

I mean, this place isn't exactly Pleasantville, but being able to traverse the city on bike via the American Tobacco Trail is definite plus.

If the media would report crimes in neighboring towns with as much gusto, then you would think we were living in the wild west. Not to mention a certain town where crime and poverty are hidden under the veneer of pretty homes and sidewalks...

Nogui Aramburo
cell: 919.771.3609

Jacob Ivery

One can remove the emotional aspect of this conversation by simply looking at the crime in different areas. The FBI estimates that there are 1000 active gang members in Durham. If that's where you want to live, then go there.


There aren't any gangs in Raleigh (sarcasm)...they just sweep there problems under a rug.

Once they have all of the poor people separated from their precious childern in the school system things will be even more perfect.

The problems that Durham experiences are NOT unique to Durham...Durham tends to discuss it more and recognize it as a problem. Raleigh probably hasn't even tried to count how many active "gang" member reside there...

Frank Hyman

Durham's reputation is partly influenced by having two newspapers--the Herald-Sun and the N&O-- covering the town, meaning that two reporters are competing to scoop each other on stories that will get readers. The kinds of stories the attract readers tend to have mayhem of one kind or another.

There was essentially no coverage of problems in Raleigh's local government until they put a pitbull of a reporter on that scene. Most reporters do a good job but are not always that tenacious without the competition from another paper.

Other cities in NC and similar sized cities around the country by a large measure, only have one newspaper covering the local scene. Without competition there is simply less pressure--and fewer eyes and ears--on the local government/civic scene. So readers get less info about the problems that invariably exist.

And often the leadership of these local, solitary, daily papers is tied into the local booster club and is happy to omit coverage of stories that would give their community a black eye.

Frank Hyman

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