Image courtesy of BeSmartee, Crime
It is up to you to research neighborhood crime before you buy a house. Learn how.
When you ask your real estate agent certain things, such as what the crime rate is in the neighborhood, your agent might wish to put their fingers in their ears, chanting la-la-la, I can't hear you. But since your agent probably isn't a 5-year-old, they might try to tactfully dodge the question or give a vague answer instead.
Why? For fear of being accused of housing discrimination by violating the Fair Housing Act's protected classes: race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, and the presence of children.
Of course, criminals aren't a protected class under the Fair Housing Act, but to make any type of comments or voice any sort of opinion on high crime rates in the neighborhood could get agents in trouble, as some people could claim this is a veiled attempt at racial discrimination. So real estate agents typically make a blanket policy — as inclusive as the one that has wait staff carding grandparents who order a beer — not to say anything.
Rather than putting your real estate agent in a sticky position, find out this information for yourself. It's easy to do if you know where to look. Here are four ways to research neighborhood crime before you buy:
The most comprehensive way to check neighborhood crime statistics is to scour the internet. Here are some helpful websites:
The acronym for this site stands for the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website. The original name for this site in 2005 was the National Sex Offender Public Registry. It was renamed to honor 22-year-old Dru Sjodin who was murdered by a registered sex offender. This site allows you to conduct a national search for registered sex offenders. The site also contains useful information on how to protect your children from being victims. You can search by address, ZIP code, county, city, or by a person's name.
AreaVibes devised a "livability score" to help people decide where they want to live. It bases livability on seven categories, one of them being crime rates. The cool feature of this site is the comparison tool. Sometimes just seeing statistics in a vacuum doesn't give you a clear picture of what they mean. But if you can compare a new city that you don't know much about with a city you do, you can get an idea of what the statistics mean. Or if you are torn between two cities to relocate to, the comparison tool can help you out. Just enter any two cities, and you can see a side-by-side comparison regarding murders, assaults, burglaries, robberies, and stolen vehicles.
This crime aggregator site gets data from police departments, the news, and from users who can submit a crime tip. It then takes that information and maps the crimes on Google Maps. You can see icons that stand for a variety of crimes: arrest, arson, assault, burglary, robbery, shooting, theft, vandalism, and other. The site tells you the type of crime that occurred on which date at what address. If you want, you can sign up to receive alerts of crime in the area through email, Twitter, Facebook, SMS, or RSS.
CrimeMapping.com lets you know about recent crime in neighborhoods across America. Just enter an address or a city, or simply zoom in using the map, and you can find out how many crimes occurred between a certain time frame and the types of crimes that happened. This site works in conjunction with Esri, a website with powerful mapping software. If you want to know more about an area than the crime rate, such as the demographics, use the Esri ZIP code lookup tool. It delineates 67 different demographics to let you know whether your area is full of Boomburbs, Laptops and Lattes, or American Dreamers, just to name a few. Don't worry, though, Esri gives detailed descriptions of what those designations mean.
This site is a great resource for general data, such as providing lists of the most dangerous cities in America, the safest cities, and so on. But if you want a detailed crime report of cities and towns, you need to subscribe. If you do, you'll receive a crime index rate of the city you look up, how many violent crimes and property crimes there are, and what your chances are of becoming a victim.
When you're considering different cities in which to live, consider calling the local police department. Use the nonemergency number! You can request a police log where you can see all the crimes that have been committed in the area for the past year.
You can order a print version, or you can read the newspaper online. Find out what sorts of crimes are occurring where. Read the letters to the editor to see whether there are major concerns.
If you can visit the town you're considering, drive around to determine whether it looks like a safe place or not. Signs it might not be include vacant buildings where businesses used to be, gang graffiti, rundown-looking schools, and homes in disrepair. But if you see people out walking their dogs in the evening, lots of business activity, well-lit streets, and shopping and restaurants, you might conclude this is a safer area.
Sometimes neighborhoods and crime rates can be dramatically different in just a matter of a mile or two. Researching the exact neighborhood you're planning to move to is a smart move.
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