Row of townhouses.

How Safe Is Your Neighborhood? 7 Ways To Check Your Neighborhood’s Safety

4-minute readSeptember 21, 2020

Whether you live alone, have a young family, or anything in between, ensuring that you feel secure on your own property is of utmost importance.

It’s pretty easy to gauge the safety of a neighborhood that you’ve lived in for a while, just based on what you’ve experienced and how the area makes you feel. But what if you are thinking about buying a new home, especially if it’s in an unfamiliar neighborhood?

Determining Your Neighborhood’s Safety

There are a few different approaches when it comes to checking the safety of an area. Here are our top tips for home buyers who are considering purchasing a new home, or for those who simply want to determine the safety of their existing neighborhood.

You’re unlikely to make a home buying decision based on one of these seven factors alone. However, when combined, these home buying resources can give you a pretty accurate idea of how safe a neighborhood really is.

View Sex Offender Registries

An important place to begin searching is on national and state-level sex offender databases. These will show you all of the registered sex offenders in your area — or the area in which you hope to buy or build a home — as well as the nature and severity of their crime.

The National Sex Offender Public Registry, also known as the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW), is probably the most comprehensive. However, many states also offer their own databases, where you can easily search by county, ZIP code, address, or, in some cases, even by specific school districts.

Use Crime Mapping Services to Check Neighborhood Crime Rates

Depending on where you live, there are many mapping sites that can be utilized to see the criminal activity in your area. These results are based off of local police reports and can often be filtered by crime, city, ZIP code, neighborhood, or even a specific address.

The map I’ve found to be the most comprehensive (at least, in my area) is the LexisNexis Community Crime Map. However, other reliable crime reporting sites include the ADT Crime Map, Spot Crime, and Motorola’s City Protect Map.

Look At Market Performance

Are homes in the area selling quickly or sitting on the market for a long period of time? Is there a larger-than-expected concentration of homes for sale in the neighborhood?

While these aren’t sure indicators of an issue, they can raise some red flags. Too many homes going up for sale in a short period of time may indicate a rise in crime or economic trouble. Too many homes sitting on the market might mean that buyers are getting spooked for some reason, and vacant houses can also be magnets for crime.

Check Things Out for Yourself

Your intuition is an invaluable tool when it comes to gauging an area’s general safety. Take some time to check things out for yourself and go with your instincts – while this won’t tell you everything you need to know about a neighborhood, you can at least avoid areas where your gut raises red flags.

Be sure to drive through the streets at different times, both day and night. Observe the people and the traffic, and take note of how the neighborhood feels. Do people take care of their lawns and keep up with landscaping? Are a large number of the homes falling apart or is there trash dumped in public spaces?

Are there children playing outside or walking to school? What about people walking their dogs? All of these can indicate a general sense of ease felt by those already living there.

A bonus to this experiment is that you can also get an idea of what your commute will look like. Try driving from that area to your place of work in the morning, and head there directly after work one evening. If it takes you 90 minutes to commute 15 miles during peak hours, you may want to spare yourself the trouble by househunting elsewhere.

Evaluate the Community

Don’t just look at the individual homes and residents while scouting out a neighborhood; be sure to also see how the community is doing as a whole.

Are businesses thriving or struggling? This can give you insight into the economic stability of the area.

Are there many community programs and outreaches, and are farmer’s markets or festivals popular? This may indicate that the residents of an area feel both safe and stable. Communities that band together to form neighborhood watches demonstrate a sense of pride and ownership.

Determine Your Neighborhood Standards

It doesn’t matter where you live, there is going to be some level of crime. It’s important to determine what’s most important to you, and what you’re willing to accept when analyzing a neighborhood. For instance, some neighborhoods may feel very safe, seeing little to no serious crime. However, they may still have high rates of petty crime, like people rifling through unlocked cars at night.

It’s also important to determine your neighborhood standards from a resident’s standpoint. When buying your first investment property, the way you evaluate the area may be very different from how you would do so if you were buying a home for yourself. If you’re a single person with no kids, the quality of the local schools and parks may not matter much. However, if you are hoping to attract families with young children to your rental property, these are very important considerations.

This also comes into play when looking at things like public foot traffic, proximity to major roadways, and the availability of sidewalks. Each home buyer will have their own standards, and these are likely to change depending on your intentions for the home.

Hear What The Neighbors Have To Say

Perhaps the best way to gauge things like neighborhood safety is to talk to those who already live there.

Join neighborhood forums if you can, like Facebook groups or Next Door message boards. Peruse old posts, keep an eye out for concerning incidents, and even post your own questions.

If you have friends – or friends of friends – who already live there, see if they’re willing to give a firsthand account. If you’re brave and feeling friendly, you could even try knocking on doors to introduce yourself to the new neighbors and talk about the area.

Final Thoughts

One of the biggest mistakes first-time home buyers can make is falling in love with a house but failing to adequately research the area. Whether you’re buying a new investment property or hoping to settle down with your family, you’ll want to determine just how safe a neighborhood is before you ever put in an offer.

Luckily, there are many ways to do just that, along with free resources at the city, state and national level to help you along the way. And remember: Above all, trust your gut. Even if everything checks out on paper, your intuition is a priceless tool when it comes to evaluating a new property.

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