Thursday, December 27, 2012


Communities sometimes organize to try to ban "for sale" signs in front of homes. Why? What's interesting is that the "for sale" sign ban has been used to promote residential integration and segregation. Indeed the "for sale" sign ban is one of those ambiguous, double-agent weapons that--like ADULT SWIM, APARTMENT SIZE, NEIGHBORHOOD COMPOSITION RULE and others that remind us that how a weapon is used is often more important than what it is.

One the one hand, "for sale" signs can be (and indeed have been) used by unscrupulous, blockbusting real estate brokers to pedal panic in white neighborhoods. A big, colorful "for sale" sign in front of house signals a homeowner's decision to leave town; a cluster of such signs is likely to incite paranoia and fears of a racial turnover, which in turn incites white flight. Demand goes down, property values plummet, and said unscrupulous broker is standing by, ready to swoop in, buy up, and flip the properties to black families for twice what he bought them for. For this reason, the “for sale” sign ban is sometimes used by Civil Rights groups and integrationists: ban the sign, and you take away one of the blockbuster's chief tools. (Using the same argument, the same groups have also unsuccessfully tried to ban "sold" signs). But the "for sale" sign ban has also been used by racists to maintain or promote segregation. Especially in the pre-internet era, simple, handmade signs made it possible for people to sell homes without the aid of real estate brokers. Banning "for sale" signs makes it more necessary to go through brokers, who, with through their multiple listing service, segregated classifieds, and racist code of ethics, would ensure that a white home would not be sold to a black family and vice versa.

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