There’s a lot to think about when buying a house, especially if it’s in a neighborhood you don’t know well. Even if the area looks nice, you never really know what happens after dark—or sometimes even in broad daylight. That's why it's vital to find out as much as you can about your potential new community’s safety and crime rates: Is the neighborhood OK for kids, and can you park your car outside without risking a break-in?
Unfortunately, it's not as easy as simply asking your real estate agent for a synopsis of the neighborhood you are considering. In fact, your real estate agent can't help you here. Because of the Fair Housing Act, agents legally can’t answer your questions about neighborhood safety—which means you’ll have to do the detective work yourself.
The following suggestions, if followed, will give you a pretty good picture of the neighborhood you are interested in:
Do online research—but know whom to trust
This first one seems obvious, but I will say it anyway - start your research online. And while you can (and should) explore what pops up after typing “crime rates in [your new neighborhood]” in Google, there are some search results we’d be more inclined to trust than others.
The sites below are of my favorites for wide-ranging information, they are comprehensive and have lots of data available depending how deep you want to dig.
When home buyers ask me about neighborhood safety or crime, one of the online tools I recommend they explore is www.crimereports.com which features crime location by mapping and includes some details of the actual event.
Besides combing through these sites, you can also consult public records like police reports, which are often listed in local papers or online. If you’re specifically concerned about who might be living in the neighborhood, especially as it relates to the safety of your children, you can always do a quick search on the National Sex Offender Public Website www.nsopw.gov, or for California www.meganslaw.ca.gov is a very good resource.
Talk to the locals
With no shortage of online resources, it’s easy to forget about the power of local knowledge.
One of the best ways to gauge a neighborhood's safety is to speak with the neighbors themselves. If you see folks outside, stop and ask them directly, “How’s the neighborhood?’" along with any additional specific questions you may be curious about.
For additional snooping online, forums such as Nextdoor and Reddit can provide some additional insight to neighborhood activities. These sites can provide a glimpse of what the locals are talking about, and help you catch on to anything (good or bad) that’s happening in the neighborhood.
Walk/Drive the neighborhood
Besides chatting up the neighbors, you should also plan on visiting your new neighborhood several times as a part of your due diligence. I always suggest that my clients drive through a potential neighborhood at different times, days, nights and weekends. Pay attention to how people take care of the homes and yards. Neighborhoods with pride of ownership are usually a good bet.
Walk several blocks and try to notice as much as you can on these trips. Do the houses have tall gates or security fences? Do the windows have bars? Is broken glass scattered on the pavement? It might mean car break-ins are frequent in the area.
Trust your instincts (seriously)
I know—this seems incredibly obvious as well, but it must be said. Nothing (and I mean nothing) can replace a gut feeling. If you visit your new neighborhood and don’t feel safe enough to walk around alone, then all the online crime maps in the world really don’t mean a thing.
Consider your lifestyle and how it fits into this new place: Will you feel safe on your morning run? Will you be comfortable letting your kids play outside, or parking your friend’s car on the street overnight?
If you feel uneasy about the neighborhood, don't move there, trust your instincts. The last thing you want to do is buy a house that you and your family are not comfortable in.
This research is vital in order to complete your proper due diligence prior to committing to your new home. I hope you find these suggestions helpful. If I can be further assistance, it would be my pleasure to hear from you.