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  • Writer's pictureZiggurat Realestatecorp

The North-South Real Estate Bias

We’re biased to prefer north over south in real state.

Billy Joel sang about his "uptown girl." Jim Croce warned us about "bad, bad Leroy Brown," who lived on the South Side of Chicago, "the baddest part of town." In some cities, uptown is genuinely nicer than downtown, but might people have a general bias to prefer northern areas over southern in any city?

We tend to think about abstract concepts in terms of metaphors. For instance, importance is heavy, affection is warm, and evil is dirty. Another common one is that good is up and bad is down. (Thumbs up, thumbs down.) Meanwhile, we tend to think of north as up and south as down because of the way maps are drawn. So Brian Meier of Gettysburg College and collaborators wondered whether we automatically think of north as good and south as bad. They also asked whether such a bias might affect real estate preferences-an important question considering the average American spends 34 percent of his income on housing.

Research found that, indeed, people have a preference for the concept of north over south. In a second experiment, college students marked on a generic city map where they would want to live. The average spot was north of center. To see if people prefer north because of its association with up, Meier repeated the experiment with the cardinal directions reversed on the map. Students no longer preferred north, suggesting that up was the key and the bias for north could be neutralized.

Finally, subjects read about one of two men. A high-class "Dr. Bennett" who went to good schools and enjoys theater, or an unemployed "Mr. Bennett" who dropped out of high-school and enjoys hot dogs and beer. The subjects put an X on a map of a city to show where they thought the man lived. Dr. Bennett, they assumed, lived uptown and Mr. Bennett downtown.

The implications are clear. If you're selling a house or advertising a business, avoid unnecessary uses of the word "south," and try to squeeze "north" in there somewhere. You'll likely get higher bids and more customers.

Of course individual cities may require different strategies :)

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