Reporter: Shelley Basinger
Farmville, VA - Sixteen years ago, Megan's Law changed everything. The landmark federal legislation required states to make registered sex offender information public.
Now, three Longwood University professors have released new research that links those offenders to a very pressing economic issue. It's strong proof that people are willing to pay more to get as far away from an offender as possible.
Michele Waddell is relatively new to Lynchburg. She moved here from Orlando last year.
"I didn't know anyone who lived in Lynchburg, and I didn't know anyone who had lived here previously," said Waddell.
In searching for a place to call home, her friend Jennifer Kesse wasn't far from her mind. Jennifer disappeared near her Orlando apartment in 2006.
"During the search and rescue, one of the searchers introduced me to this site, and we found within a three-mile radius there were over 500 sexual offenders," Waddell.
The site was FamilyWatchdog.us. When Michele made the move to Lynchburg, she looked at the colored dots on the map and decided against a place she really liked near downtown. She decided on Rivermont Avenue instead.
"Where I'm at now, there were less than five within in a couple of miles," said Waddell.
It's decisions like those that back up the research of Dr. Benny Waller, Dr. Ray Brastow, and Dr. Scott Wentland.
"Not only is it that sex offenders nearby matter, but it must be the case that homebuyers are checking," said Dr. Brastow.
The Longwood University professors found that properties within one-tenth of a mile of a sex offender would decrease in value by about nine percent and take as much as 10 percent longer to sell. And they believe that real estate sales in rural communities take more of a hit.
"A tenth of a mile in Richmond for example, there could be hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people. A tenth of a mile in Farmville, Virginia where Longwood University is located... maybe one neighbor... maybe one neighbor," said Dr. Waller.
"Communities matter a whole lot and who's in those communities matters," said Dr. Wentland.
Robert Dawson has been in the real estate business in this area for 30 years. He is the owner of Dawson Ford Garbee & Company Realtors. While he agrees sex offenders do have some effect on the market, he doesn't think they do as much as the research suggests.
"Only one time have I run across this with a buyer and only one time have I run across this with an actual property that I was marketing," said Dawson.
The professors' data spans 10 years, from 1999 to 2009. But Dawson says since 2006, homes are taking longer to sell across the board.
"I think the information is good, but I think we have a buyer clientele that will analyze that information properly because they're more educated," said Dawson.
He believes buyers are beginning to not only just look at the number of colored dots but dig deeper, then make a decision. For potential buyers like Michele, seeing what an offender did is important but so is being near as few of those dots possible.
"That's what it is, it's choosing the lesser of the evils," said Waddell.
Some proof that this is a very sensitive subject. Michelle is renting her residence right now. Countless new homebuyers who say they looked for sex offenders turned reporter Shelley Basinger down for an interview.
If you'd like to read the full research paper, click here.