Buying a New Home: How to Tell If the Neighborhood is Safe… Or Scary

Buying a New Home: How to Tell If the Neighborhood is Safe… Or Scary

Your home is possibly the biggest investment you'll ever make. So naturally you shop carefully. But to some extent, there are factors working against you. If you're buying in an unfamiliar neighborhood, there is always a chance that what appears to be the perfect home for you could have serious problems that you cannot readily see. Whether you are renting, or buying, or buying a property to use as a rental, beware the deceptive neighborhood.

One couple made a hasty move to a new city so the husband could start a job the next day. They arrived at night, checked into a motel, and went apartment hunting. They found an affordable one they liked, and signed a lease that same evening. The next day after the husband left for work, the woman went to the new place and was stunned to find the neighborhood looked very different in daylight. Tucked between the nice looking buildings that were visible from the street were rusty cars and other debris. Unfortuantely, they'd signed a six-month lease. They stayed the six months, had their car vandalized twice, and moved out. In that particular case, you might be able to understand how the mistake was made, since the couple did not have the advantage of seeing the neighborhood in daylight. But don't assume that seeing a home on a bright Wednesday morning will reveal the neighborhood's flaws. You need to do a great deal more checking, especially if you are buying a home.

Here are a few things to look for:

Ask the local police department about the crime rate in the neighborhood. Also, go online and check the national sex offender registry: or find out if your state has a registry that allows you to easily check a neighborhood to see if sex offenders are in residence.

The city council can provide information about schools. Even if you don't have school age children, thriving schools are an indication of upwardly moving property values.

Talk to a few people in the neighborhood and a few people from outside the neighborhood to determine if it's generally considered a good place to live. Also, buy a local paper and see if that gives you any clues.

Ask your realtor to run some "comps" for you to see what the selling history of the neighborhood is, and whether property values appear to be rising. Get a few addresses of "for sale" houses in the neighborhood and ask the realtor how long they've been on the market. If sales appear sluggish, ask the realtor (or another realtor) if the market is slow, or that neighborhood is undesirable.

Ask your realtor how many rentals there are in the neighborood compared to owner-occupied houses.You may be the perfect tenant or homeowner, but it's a sad fact that many people have less respect for a house they are renting than a house they own. Do you really want them to be your neighbors? If your realtor is reluctant to provide the information, find out why.

Do you notice remodeling projects in process? It's a good sign if people are opting to remain in the area and invest more in their homes. It also means people care about their property.

In many neighborhoods you see new businesses opening up or relocating into the area. Commercial enterprise generally studies a location thoroughly before constructing or purchasing costly buildings. So if there is commercial development in progress or on its way, that's a sign of a vital neighborhood.

Notice existing businesses to see how they keep their grounds. Landscaping, or at least an effort to be relatively litter-free shows that the stores care because they know the customers care. And those customers will be your neighbors.

Are necessities such as grocery stores, banks, and pharmacies nearby? If you have to drive out of the area for these things that could be an indication that businesses consider the neighborhood to be risky. Once again, the police will know.

What kind of city services are available? Many cities have excellent public transportation systems that are safe, clean, and thriving. It's a good sign if you find out that the local transit system is planning to expand its service.

Before committing to buy a home or even rent one, drive through the neighborhood on a Friday and/or Saturday night. Also drive down streets that back on your prospective house, since loud music travels. If the neighborhood seems relatively quiet, that's great. If time permits, drive-through on a weekday and weeknight too. It could be that the owners or previous tenants wanted out because of unreasonably noisy neighbors, and you probably don't want to be stuck with them either.

Whatever else you do… do your homework before making a commitment. Your home can't be your castle if the neighborhood is a source of endless headaches.