“Crime levels have declined sharply in the US over the past two decades. According to FBI statistics, the rate of violent crime fell 50% between 1993 and 2015, the most recent full year available,” said Business Insider.
Yet, school shootings are increasingly on everyone’s minds and public perceptions are that crime is actually on the rise. “In 21 Gallup surveys since 1989, the majority of Americans said there was more crime compared to the year before, despite the downward trend in both violent and property crime rates in the US during that period,” they said.
In and amongst all the other factors buyers need to consider when looking for a home – price and affordability, square footage, commute time, how much updating needs to be done – it’s more important than ever to feel safe in your home and neighborhood. Lists like WalletHub’s 2018’s Safest States in America (Vermont, Maine, and Minnesota are the top three), and Niche’s Best Place to Live in America, of which safety is a key factor (Naperville, Illinois, Irvine, California, and Thousand Oaks, California) are a great place to start. But when you want to dig a little deeper, start here:
Map the crime in the area
The city you are looking at could be on the safest cities list, but what about the specific neighborhood? Using a crime mapping service can help. “CrimeReports and SpotCrime are two services that collect police and crime reports,” said Homes.com. “Enter the address where you plan to buy or build, and these two services will display a list of the crimes committed in the vicinity, complete with a breakdown of the dates and type of crimes. You can compare potential neighborhoods with these tools to see which ones have the lowest crime rates.”
Check for sexual predators
The U.S. Department of Justice National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW) is a regularly updated database that allows you to enter an address and map sex offenders nearby.
FamilyWatchdog is another great place to look. “Type a location or address into the website’s search box, and FamilyWatchdog generates a map pinpointing the address of nearby registered sex offenders,” said Safewise. “Color-coded icons correspond to various sex crimes, including crimes against children, sexual battery, and rape. Click the icon and you’ll see a picture of the offender, learn their aliases, and find out what sex crime they’ve been convicted of. If you’re looking for a specific individual, you can search for them by name.” With this free service, “You can also sign up to be alerted when a registered sex offender moves in or out of your neighborhood.”
Talk to people already in the area
This is a top tip for buying a home regardless of what your specific concerns may be. After all, you don’t want to end up living across from the next Nirvana, who practice in the garage until all hours of the night, or the grumpy old man who spends his afternoons gazing out the window so he can run outside to yell at anyone who dares walk a dog by his house. A nosy neighbor (and every place has at least one!), can also give you some great info about potential concerns beyond the mild (or not so mild) irritations. If there are issues in the neighborhood, in the schools, or in a particular home, you’re likely to hear it here first. What might seem like gossip can be great intel you want to take seriously.
Perhaps nowhere will you find better and deeper insight into what a potential neighborhood is like than getting a peak at the local Nextdoor. Expect to see the typical Nextdoor posts—lots of “my dog (or my cat, my lizard, or my turtle) got out,” and all kinds of complaints about bad driving, complete with shaming pictures of license plates. You’ll also see lots of posts about suspicious individuals/potential prowlers and questions about whether that “loud bang” (that was probably fireworks) was actually a gunshot. If you haven’t already had the pleasure of joining Nextdoor in your current community, this will give you a taste of what to expect.
But behind all of that potential paranoia is some real info that could give you important insight into the neighborhood and who you might soon be living near.
Choose the right school
New-home purchases are often made or broken on the quality of the area schools, but parents today are concerned about more than test scores. As you’re doing your research, perhaps a one-on-one with the principal is in order. Knowing details of the school’s anti-bullying policy may help you feel more confident in your choice. It stinks to have to think about things like evacuation plans and active shooter training, but knowing the school has elements in place to keep your kids safe is, unfortunately, crucial today.
And, just as you may want to talk to neighbors about the quality of the neighborhood, local parents’ take on the school, teachers, administrators, and how safe and protected they feel their kids are is also key.
WRITTEN BY JAYMI NACIRI