Oct 10, 2007

Home, Safe Home

A recent event has me thinking about safety: last week, a friend's home was burglarized, in the middle of the day, with neighbors around. Fortunately, no one was hurt, and it's an infrequent occurrence in the neighborhood.

However, it's a good reminder for home shoppers that before you buy, you should learn what you can about crime in your potential new neighborhood. Some websites will give you general statistics, but if you're seriously thinking of buying, it's best to do a more thorough search--even if you think you know a neighborhood well.

The internet is helpful here too, particularly city police department websites. For example, you can enter an address on the Oakland city police department's "Crimewatch" website to see crime history in the neighborhood in the last 90 days. Even smaller towns, like Davis, California, have similar tools.

If you're not able to get the information from the comfort of your own home, make the effort to go down to the police department. There you may find recent crime maps or other statistics, as well as those most knowledgeable about the crime patterns where you live. For example, you may find higher than expected crime rates if you're on the edge of an undesirable neighborhood, if there are several vacant homes on the street, or if the house is located next to a park or school with frequent, uncontrolled traffic.

While this information may not dictate whether you choose to buy in a certain neighborhood, it may help set your expectations once there. For example, if auto theft is high in the neighborhood, you might be careful about parking in a garage; if burglaries are common, you might want to install an alarm. And you may want to check the crime history on the home you're looking at--if there's a history of property crime, you could face similar problems and higher insurance premiums.

No matter what you decide to do with the information, it's better to be informed than to learn the hard way. And, my latest book (written with Ilona Bray & Marcia Stewart) has more tips on how you can assess the safety of your potential new neighborhood, so if you're interested in home-safety strategies, pick up a copy of Nolo's Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home (Nolo).

Alayna Schroeder