Neighborhood safety is high on the list for most of my clients, except in the handful of situations where clients are looking to build equity in an “up and coming” neighborhood. But determining the safety of a particular neighborhood is not necessarily something you can do by how nice the street looks. The Fair Housing discrimination laws to which real estate agents are beholden also muddies the water somewhat by regulating what agents can and can’t say to clients. While a straightforward question along the lines of, “is this a safe neighborhood?” may seem reasonable, along with “how are the schools here?”, among others, they aren’t something we’re legally allowed to weigh in on without opening ourselves up to a potential discrimination charge. So if your agent is not able to candidly answer the question of neighborhood safety, here’s a short list for how you can determine the answer for yourself.
Ask Your Agent for Direction—Not Answers
While agents can’t legally answer direct questions about neighborhood safety, the Fair Housing Act does allow us to advise clients where to research this for themselves. That has its pros and cons. Sometimes, even agents have biases based on past hearsay or experiences. To be as impartial as possible, it really is best to do the groundwork yourself. Here are a few best practices:
- Get online. Research your new neighborhood on websites like City Data, AreaVibes or Community Crime Map.
- Talk to the neighbors. If you see neighbors when you’re visiting a possible new home, ask them what they think of the neighborhood. If there’s a homeowner’s association, sometimes issues will be documented in their meeting minutes. I’ve had my clients share many interesting tidbits that came to to light in those documents before they made an offer, and it’s not the type of thing I could have learned simply by walking the neighborhood after a showing and striking up a conversation with one of the neighbors.
- Visit the neighborhood at different times of day and night. Visiting the neighborhood at different times on different days will give you a more well-rounded picture. I always recommend, when possible, to come back and have dinner close to the home where you’re interested in making an offer. If you see well-maintained homes and obvious pride of ownership, that’s definitely a good sign. Taking note of things like security doors and gates, bars on windows, and the presence of broken glass on the pavement, litter, and loitering.
- Go with your gut. Ask yourself if you’d feel safe letting your kids play outside, whether you’d be comfortable going for a run, walking your dog or if you’d park your car outside overnight with concern, and questions along those lines. Then, trust your own instincts.
A Current Snapshot: 3 U.S. Neighborhoods with the Lowest Crime Rates
If neighborhood safety tops your list, here are three areas worth exploring. Surprising to me, Reno made the top three!
- Ashland Ranch, Gilbert, AZ. Gilbert has a crime rate of 12 per 1,000 residents.
- Caughlin Ranch, Reno, NV. The crime rate is less than 5%, the lowest in the entire city.
- Ridgefield South, Ridgefield, CT. Crime rates here are as low as 2 in 1,000 people.
The Bottom Line
No neighborhood has a lock on being safe or unsafe, regardless of what the statistics say. I vividly remember a discussion I once had with a single female client about to purchase her first home, which happened to be directly next to the same projects where OJ Simpson grew up. When I asked her if she was worried about her safety, her reply was, “Meredith, the only time my house was ever broken into was when I was living in the safest neighborhood in the city and they had to scale two fences to get in.” That said, most people would be wise to at least assess the scale of safety of your prospective neighborhood. Understanding the limitations imposed by Fair Housing laws on what your agent can say, you can take matters into their own hands and at the very least make a more informed decision.