One of the foremost concerns in the minds of most house hunters is the relative safety of a prospective neighborhood. Since ensuring the safety of you, your family and your home is so important, learn more about researching area crime and safety when shopping for a home.
Crime and Safety
Talk to your real estate agent
You pay your buyer's agent to be your local expert. One of their areas of expertise should be in knowing which areas are prone to crime, which areas are improving, and which areas seem to be attracting a new bad element. Some people actually like to be on the vanguard of neighborhood revivals but if this isn't you, let your fears and concerns be known.
Get the facts, ma'am
There are a host of online resources available for you to compare the reported rates of crime in various areas. Most local governments have now added online resources for citizens to monitor crime in their area. In the District of Columbia (home to HotPads.com) the city lets residents map crime reports over the last two years. Check it out at http://crimemap.dc.gov/presentation/intro.asp and see if your city or county has a similar program.
If you are looking to compare metropolitan areas, the Congressional Quarterly ranks 344 metro areas for crime. See the 2007 list here (PDF). The FBI keeps data tables on crime by city and county that you can browse on its website at www.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2006/offenses/index.html.
Do a drive-by
No, not that kind of drive-by. (Although if you see some of your rival gang members on the corner, we don't advise living there.) Home prices and demographic information is nice, but nothing quite tells the tale of a town like walking its mean streets. You don't actually have to get out of the car, but what you see will give a good indication of what to expect.
Look at the amount and nature of trash on the streets. Lots of empty liquor bottles and beer cans? Keep driving. Even if it's not gang signs, graffiti is at least a clear sign that the neighborhood accepts a certain degree of lawlessness. Lighting is huge, so visit at night. Note the placement and condition of street lights. Needless to say, vacant homes with boarded up windows, overgrown lawns and other signs of neglect invite crime.
Many people consider the old neighborhood watch to be a relic of a by-gone era. Even neighborhoods with signs indicating a neighborhood watch don't actually have a functioning program. Those signs alone don't do much to deter crime. Sadly, if the neighborhood does have an active neighborhood watch it may be in response to a high rate of crime, leading you to think twice about living in that area.
Other safety issues
Crime is not the only issue surrounding your safety. There are other services that you may have to call on in the event of an emergency, so check into them. How close is the nearest fire station? Police station? Hospital emergency room? Cut-backs in city services have left many areas without a nearby emergency room, and ambulance service can often be less than reliable.
Other Buyers Guide Topics
Jump back for the index of articles on the shopping for a home.
Other Web Info
Neighborhood crime rate stats from NeighborhoodScout.com (subscription required.)