“What’s the crime rate in this area?”
It’s a common question and we understand completely why homebuyers want the answer. Unfortunately, real estate professionals are forbidden from answering it.
So, when your question is met with silence, or you’re directed to the local police station or a website or two, please don’t think we’re brushing you off.
The Fair Housing Act
Passed into law in the late 1960s, the Fair Housing Act’s aim was to end housing discrimination. In our case, it prevents us from answering certain questions because our answers may be construed as “steering.”
Steering is when a real estate agent tries to discourage a client from buying a home in a certain area. Even if we don’t intend to steer you, crime statistics, racial demographics and even which churches are in the area are topics that are off-limits to us.
The law applies to listing agents as well. For instance, advertising a home as “within walking distance,” could be a violation of the law in that it appears we are discriminating against the handicapped.
Agents get around this by saying that a home is “within close proximity to” or “near” an amenity.
Back to safe neighborhoods
There are several ways to check crime statistics or the general safety of a community.
Crime mapping services
Crime mapping services collect data from police. In addition to gathering data from the local sheriff and police departments, some, such as cityprotect.com, enlist the help of homeowners with security cameras, allowing them to register their cameras with the site.
City review sites
Other sites, such as areavibes.com, encourage residents to give a general overview of their cities and these reviews will often contain community-level crime information.
Neighborhoodscout.com’s Crime Risk Reports “provide an instant, objective assessment of property and violent crime risks and rates for every U.S. address and neighborhood,” according to its website. They also offer lots of informative lists, such as Murder Capitals of America, Most Dangerous Cities, Most Dangerous Neighborhoods, Safest Cities in America and more.
NextDoor.com is growing in popularity, which please us to no end. NextDoor is a social network at the neighborhood level. It’s neighbors talking to other neighbors, sharing information on local service people, lost and found pets and, yes, crime.
You’ll get a deeper insight into a particular neighborhood here than you will on a national site.
Nextdoor is a private platform so ask your agent if he or she knows anyone who lives in the neighborhood who may be a member. Perhaps the home seller is and you can log in with his credentials.
Sex offender databases
The U.S. Department of Justice offers the National Sex Offender Public Website with a “regularly updated database that allows you to enter an address and map sex offenders nearby.”
Talk to the neighbors
Nobody is more in touch with local crime than residents of the community. Drive the neighborhood at different times of the day and when you see neighbors outside, stop and chat with them.
Not only will you most likely get information on how safe the neighborhood is but you may learn other valuable things about it as well. So, open your ears and soak up the gossip.