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Buying a Home? How to Tell if the Neighbourhood is Safe

on Nov 14, 2013

Your New HomeWhile your new home will come with its own inspection report, covering the quality of its construction, one vital bit of information you won’t get is how safe the surrounding neighbourhood is. How safe is this neighbourhood is not a question that your real estate can give you a surefire answer on.

One way to get a sense of the safety in the neighbourhood you’re looking into is by going online. In many Canadian cities – especially major cities – you can find a useful crime map on the website of your local police service. These maps will often visualize the severity of criminal incidents around the city, and usually let you zoom in to a neighbourhood level to see just what kind of criminal activity – if any – is occurring.

However, you may find this data is unavailable or, instead, too abstracted, as some police websites don’t let you zoom down very close to specific streets and intersections, resulting in a fuzzy perspective.

But what can you do? Simply, take a walk.

Head into your possible new neighbourhood by foot and keep your eyes open, gauging the neighbourhood climate and culture. Are there many buildings with broken windows? Run-down properties? Widespread graffiti? Dark, isolated alleyways? Broken or missing street lights? If so, take note. Neighbourhoods with these features of neglect can often attract criminals.

And you should absolutely go on foot, as driving through a neighbourhood can give you a pulled-back perspective on its street life and atmosphere, missing out on a little details that you would spot when out of the car.

Another good test to do while hoofing around on foot is the so-called potato chip check.

Find a nearby corner store, and go in and pick up a bag of potato chips (or an equivalent or healthier snack more in line with your tastes). Go outside the house you’re thinking of buying and sit down and eat the bag of chips. If you can polish off the bag of chips and feel safe while doing so, it’s a good sign you’ll be comfortable and secure in the neighbourhood.

And check out the homes of your prospective neighbours. Are they mowing their lawns? Taking out their garbage? If not, these are signs they take absolutely no pride in their neighbourhood. Remember, you don’t need to have a mansion to take a little pride in keeping your property in good shape.

Also, look for neighbourhood features that attract crowds of people, such as a children’s play area or a park, or even bustling coffee shops or outdoor shops and recreational areas. It’s a good rule of thumb that the more people there are on the street, the safer that street – and its neighbourhood – is going to be.