You probably don’t phrase the question, “Is this hood a safe hood?” But let’s be honest, it’s what you want to know. You want to know if you can walk your dog at night without being afraid, if your kids can ride their bikes to the park, if you will be able to sleep peacefully at night… and work in tranquility during the day. You want to know if your car will be broken into – or worse yet, your house. But a REALTOR can’t tell you. In fact, no one can assure you of your safety. That’s why, when you ask questions like, “Is there much crime here?”, “Is this a nice neighborhood?” or any other variation of the question, you’re likely to get an evasive answer.
Some agents will tell you it’s a fair housing issue and they can’t answer the question. This is because if the neighborhood happens to be primarily (insert name of color/race/national origin/religion or other protected class) then we might be accused of “steering”… and that is a fair housing issue.
But we also can’t answer for lots of other good reasons….
(a) No one is safe, no area is exempt from crime;
I sold my son – MY SON – a home last year and within a month of him moving in, someone stole a computer out of his unlocked car that was parked in the street in front of his home. You can bet your bottom dollar I would not have sold my son a house in what I considered a “bad” neighborhood… but you can also bet I have taught him to lock his car and take his computer inside. No one is exempt. (He got his computer back thanks to the Leesburg Police Department… he got it back before he ever knew it was gone.) Even if you end up in a “nice” area, you are still responsible for your safety, you must still take steps to reduce the chances of being targeted for crime.
(b) We have no idea what your tolerance level is;
I once showed a home in a neighborhood where we had to step over multiple piles of trash and broken beer bottles to get to the property that was for sale, and the person I was showing the place to was not at all turned off. She excused it saying “Well, it is early on a Saturday morning.” Personally, I would not live in a neighborhood like that… but, as they say, “Different strokes for different folks.”
(c) Perhaps most importantly: We don’t KNOW; and therefore our answers would be incomplete at best.
Even in my own neighborhood, where I think I am pretty well connected and ‘in the know’, sometimes I learn about something I didn’t know happened.
SO WHAT CAN YOU DO?
You do have the right to investigate the area… and you should, so that you can make your own determinations about what your risk and tolerance level is. Here are some ways to assess the area….
1. COMPARE prices. I hate to say it but in a lot of cases lower prices = higher crime. That is certainly not the only reason for lower prices. Remember, real estate is “location, location, location” so being willing to commute a little further normally gets you more house for the same money. But if you are looking at a certain type of home within a relatively similar location and one is MUCH cheaper than the other, ask yourself why. Ask your agent why. We CAN comment on values for various neighborhoods and help you understand when those value differences are based on traffic patterns, desirability because of a type of utility (ie high speed internet) or ammenity (golf course, lake, equestrian facilities, etc), size of homes, etc.
2. LOOK at the neighborhood. Really look. Notice the cars, look for trash in the street, notice how well the nearby homes and yards are maintained. Check out the nearby businesses. Are they the type of businesses YOU would frequent?
3. LISTEN for noise, traffic and noisy pets, and then decide if any of those are issues for you.
4. VISIT more than once, at different times of the day and on different days. Look for signs of people doing what you might do – not only will it tell you if it’s a “good” neighborhood but it will tell you if you’ll fit in. Do you walk your dog at night? Go for a run in the morning? Turn in early? Look for a party on Saturday night? If you have kids, visit the school(s) where they will be going. Stop by the grocery store where you will likely be shopping. I once lived in an apartment and that neighborhood was really nice… but the local school was scary and the nearest grocery store had armed guards. It was not exactly my cup of tea.
5. TALK to neighbors, the police, the school. See what you see, hear what you hear.
6. ONLINE RESEARCH… Google the neighborhood, visit the web site for the HOA or area, read the local neighborhood paper (most have online versions these days)… and google the address. Last but not least, check www.crimereports.com which will give you the crime reports for the last 6 months for most jurisdictions in our area, as well as the location of registered sex offenders. [TIP: CrimeReports.com now has a mobile app and it’s free. ]
Unfortunately, other than share these ideas, tools and resources with you, we REALTORS really can not help you assess your comfort level with the neighborhood you have chosen. But I can assure you that these are the best ways to assess a neighborhood; and they are the same things I tell my most loved ones… like my son. After your investigation, follow your instincts. If you don’t like what you see, don’t buy there. In the end, you are the one that has to be comfortable with your choice.