Dear Real Estate Adviser,
We're looking in a few different communities to buy a home that would be within short driving distance of our grandchildren. But we're very security-conscious, almost to the point of paranoia. What is the most accurate way to research crime data in a particular community?
-- Colleen M.
Since this is the mega-data age, crime information for just about any place in the United States is at your fingertips online, and mostly free. Many of the national real estate listing sites are rife with crime stats.
Sites for scared eyes
For a bigger picture, you can try these other free sites: the FBI-supported Bureau of Justice Statistics, CrimeReports.com and City-Data.com, among others. And, of course, don't forget that all-important sex-offender search (MegansLaw.com, NSOPW.gov, FamilyWatchdog.us), especially if the kiddos will be visiting frequently.
There are subscription sites that drill down a bit deeper into local crime, including NeighborhoodScout.com, which offers specifics on neighborhood violent crime and property crime, plus crimes per square mile, how that measures up to national median totals and more.
The GIGO problem
Of course, stats never lie. Or do they? While these online references can be excellent research tools, they're only as good as the data that's submitted to them. That is, some police departments don't maintain and revise their crime info as often as others do, meaning some information you read may not be reasonably up to date. On the other hand, some police departments literally report everything, including tree TP-ing incidents, while others don't report certain offenses just to keep crime off their image-conscious community's books.
Call the cops
So as an adjunct to all your due diligence, you can contact the community resource officer at the city's main nonemergency number and request a log of police calls and crimes in any given area that have occurred in the past year or so. This lets you know what levels of crimes are "trending" around your targeted buy area.
Read the paper and visit
A newspaper search is a good idea, too. Scroll through several weeks' worth of issues online, reading crime stories and reports and letters from concerned citizens. These can be real eye-openers. And if you can swing it, make a personal visit to your potential neighborhood to get a firsthand sense of how crime-deterrent it actually is. Are roads, sidewalks and driveways well-lit, and are streetlights maintained? Are conspicuous home security systems the rule and not the exception? Or, on the other hand, do you see gang graffiti nearby?
If you aren't too shy and want to take things a step further, ask neighbors about the safety of the environment you may be buying into. Most will be glad to give you honest feedback. If the neighborhood has a watch program, be sure to ask what's being done to promote safety there.
You're most wise to be seeking out such crime data. If you have "paranoia" about anything, crime awareness and prevention should help.
Knowing you have a good credit score can help you feel confident when you negotiate. Check your credit report and get your credit score for free at myBankrate.
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