Ways to Tell If a Neighborhood Is Safe: House-Hunting Tips

Aerial,Sunset,View,Of,Curving,Contemporary,American,Neighborhood,Street,With It’s not uncommon to hear of families wanting to buy a home in a safe neighborhood, but most may not know exactly how to tell whether or not a neighborhood is safe. A community may seem new and peaceful at first glance but have high crime rates, while another rundown area may have the calmest, most pleasant living atmosphere. This is where we see the importance of in-depth research not only of the neighborhood’s overall appearance but also the crime rate and living conditions.  Although reports from the FBI show that crime rates in 2019 have fallen compared to 2018, it’s still important to focus on neighborhoods’ safety. Even a small number of crimes can be concentrated in one area, so you must do your neighborhood check before settling for a property. 

However, not everyone knows how or has the time to do this type of research, which is entirely understandable. That’s where real estate agents step in to help. The agent will start showing homes for a potential buyer, which includes finding a safe neighborhood for them to live in, amongst many other things. 

This article will go in-depth on the different tips both real estate agents and potential homeowners can follow to help them answer the important question – Is this neighborhood safe to buy a house in?

Use Crime Mapping Services

Unlike a few years back, when you had to knock on 20+ doors and ask locals if the neighborhood is safe or not, today, there are many online crime mapping services you can use to check the crime rate in a city, a neighborhood, or even an address. There are also websites where you can check specific crimes and offenders in your area. 

Some of the different crime mapping services you can use are: 

  • Family Watchdog – a free service to help locate registered sex offenders in your area.
  • ADT Crime Map – interactive crime map enables you to understand as much as possible about potential crime in your city or neighborhood
  • SpotCrime – City and county crime map showing crime incident data down to neighborhood crime
  • CityProtect – An interactive crime map service where you can browse crimes by reports of the agency in charge 
  • CityData – Detailed, informative crime rate profiles for every city in the United States 

These are just some of the crime mapping services real estate agents and homebuyers can utilize to get a feel for the crime in the area. 

When you use these, keep in mind that the single number of crimes is not enough to paint the entire picture. A smaller neighborhood may have a higher crime percentage than a bigger neighborhood just because of the fewer people living there. 

Check the National Sex Offenders Public Website

Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website is the National Sex Offenders Public Website where you can search sex offender registries for all 50 states, The District of Columbia, U.S. Territories, and Indian Country. It’s one of the most important public safety tools for real estate agents and homebuyers to evaluate the area of interest. 

The website gives visitors the option to either search by the name of an offender or by location. All you need to do is enter the name of the sex offender if you know it, or search by a specific location in a state, city, and address (all three are required). 

Once you enter the required information, a table of sexual offenders that meet the criteria you entered will appear. The table has basic information such as their name, photo, age, known aliases, and address. If you want to find out more about them and their crime(s), click on their name, which will prompt you to another website from the state authority they’re registered in. There, you’ll find information about their current residency, the date they registered, their ending registration date, past addresses, vehicles, and personal characteristics (eye color, hair color, height, tattoos, etc.). 

You can also get tips on how you can protect yourself and your family and spot a suspicious person. 

Tour the Neighborhood 

Although looks may deceive, it doesn’t mean that you should skip touring the neighborhood. Regardless if you’re a real estate agent scouting for good deals for your clients or an eager homebuyer looking for the perfect home-to-be, you should take the time to walk through the neighborhood. Check the houses’ condition to see how well they are maintained, and if they have landscaped yards, and look new overall. 

You can also find out something by strolling through the streets and checking the state of the public surfaces, playgrounds, and landscaping. 

A neighborhood that doesn’t have old abandoned houses and is well maintained by the community is an indication that the residents want to live there long term, a positive sign for those considering living in it.

Another way to assess the area is to check local schools and businesses. How are they reviewed? Do they fit with what you or your client is looking for? Are there notable businesses nearby? The absence of companies and low-ranking schools can be a sign that the neighborhood may not be safe. Be sure to look for all these things, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the area and are moving from out of state

Analyze the Number of Homes for Sale In the Area

When you’re scouting for a future home and want to check neighborhood safety, you’ll probably look at properties for an extended period. If you’re interested in an area, but notice that there are many houses for sale from it too often, it may be an indicator that people don’t want to live in that neighborhood. Sometimes, there may be a particular change that is not welcomed by the community. If they’re rushing to sell their home because of it, it may be something you wouldn’t like either, so make sure you know all the facts before settling for a specific area.

The number of homes for sale can reveal many things that are not obvious at first glance. In fact, among the tips they may teach in real estate school, there are different reasons why a home may not be selling. It’s not rare that they mention that the number of homes for sale in the area may be a negative sign.

Talk to the Neighbors

Don’t underestimate the power of local knowledge. One of the best ways to gauge a neighborhood’s safety is to talk to the neighbors who live in it. Some questions you can ask that will give you a general idea of it are: 

  • How long have you been living here? 
  • How do you like the place? 
  • How safe is this neighborhood? 
  • Have you ever experience any crime in this neighborhood? 
  • If you could change anything about the area, what would it be?
  • What are the schools like here?
  • How does the community socialize here?

Of course, if you’re interested in a specific subject, you can ask more questions that will give you the answers you need to determine if a neighborhood is the right choice for you and your family. 

Trust Your Gut

In the end, if you’re doing your neighborhood check walk and something seems off, trust your gut. If you don’t feel safe walking or being home alone, then chances are it isn’t the right neighborhood for you. More often than not, your instinct will be right, but even if it isn’t, feeling unsafe where you live is not something you should settle for. If you’re unsure, check out the cost of a home security system to give you peace of mind. 

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About the Author

Chris Heller brings 27 years of experience in real estate. Chris serves on the AgentAdvice Editorial Board and is the Chief Real Estate Officer at OJO Labs. Chris brings deep expertise having held influential industry positions including CEO of mellohome and former CEO of Keller Williams Realty International.

Last Updated: 5/4/2023