Many factors are part of buying a home or moving to a new neighborhood. We look at the school district, the lawns, its distance to work, and even the colors of the houses near the one we want to buy. There’s a tremendous amount of research before deciding to buy a home or move.
One thing some people neglect to consider is safety. The perfect house in an unsafe neighborhood makes it harder to sleep peacefully and enjoy your new home. As you check out potential communities, look carefully at these telltale neighborhood safety signs and signals of a safe or unsafe place to live.
10 Things to Look for to Move Into a Safe New Home
1. How the Neighborhood Seems at Day & at Night
Safety expert Gavin Debecker writes in his landmark book “The Gift of Fear” that people have an inborn sense of safety and danger, which they listen to all the time. An accumulation of minor signs, none of which are individually worth conscious notice, add up to an intuition about a situation, person or place.
When you visit a new neighborhood, complex, or home, you use that intuition and come away with a general sense of the area’s safety, but you only get part of the picture. When you view the property you’re considering, also walk around a few nearby blocks to get a sense of the entire neighborhood.
Then come back at night and do the same thing. More than one neighborhood seems OK during daylight hours but puts on a different face after the sun sets.
2. Local Trauma Care Levels
Crime is just one factor in a neighborhood’s safety level. Another is the proximity and quality of medical care. Use the internet to locate the nearest hospital with an emergency room, then look up its trauma center level. You can often find this on the hospital’s website, or you can do a Google search for “trauma center level” and the zip code.
A trauma center’s level refers to the staffing and equipment a hospital has onsite and indicates what they’re capable of treating. Trauma centers are rated on the following scale:
- Level I: Capable of treating any level of injury 24 hours per day and managing extended aftercare.
- Level II: Capable of treating any level of injury 24 hours per day and managing some aspects of aftercare.
- Level III: Capable of treating all but the highest levels of injury 24 hours per day, with limited facilities for aftercare.
- Level IV: Capable of providing advanced life support 24 hours per day in preparation for transport to a better-equipped facility.
- Level V: Capable of stabilizing and diagnosing patients for transfer to a more advanced facility. May not be open 24 hours per day.
Know what level the nearest hospital is and the distance to the closest Level II or Level I unit.
If a member of your family has special medical needs, also look into the distance to the nearest facility that can provide both routine and emergency care.
3. Speed Limit & Traffic Signage
What’s the speed limit for the neighborhood you’re considering? How often do the locals observe that limit while driving? Are there traffic signs, or barriers like speed bumps or frequent turns, to help keep traffic safe? Is there a school zone, traffic light, or crosswalk?
These considerations are most important for families with children too young to learn traffic safety or who are likely to ride bicycles, skateboard, or do similar activities on the road. That said, traffic safety causes injuries in every age group, so it’s good to get a sense of what that looks like in a potential place to live regardless.
4. Crime Mapping
Crime mapping apps use a combination of crime statistics and crowdsourcing to show where crimes have occurred.
CrimeMapping.com is the premier site for this kind of research. You can also get a lot of good information through the social networking site Nextdoor and the app that comes with Ring camera systems. These are just three of the biggest out of dozens of ways to get detailed research on crime rates and types of crime in any place you want to live.
Also review various sex offender registries, such as the National Sex Offender Registry. Although the jury is still out on how effective these policies and sites are, it will let you know if a neighborhood has a population of registered sex offenders.
5. Kids Playing Outside
If children are playing outside, that’s a sign the neighborhood is at least mostly safe. Parents who worry about their kids don’t let them play outdoors in unsafe areas, or at least not in the front yard. Those children are in their backyards more often than not.
By contrast, a neighborhood where you need to slow down because of the kids walking, biking and playing ball is a good sign.
While you’re at it, walk to the nearest park. Check to see if it’s well-maintained, well-lit at night, and free from signs of drug use and other crime. It’s another strong indicator of safety levels.
6. Police Presence
The more often police need to visit a neighborhood, the less likely that area is to be safe. Look up police records for the neighborhood and see how often police are called for any reason whatsoever.
You can usually find a link to this either on the local police website or through the website of the nearest local newspaper. If that fails, a Google search for “(city) police records” can get you what you need.
7. Access to Grocery Stores
Some neighborhoods are located in a “food desert,” meaning that no significant grocery stores put a location there. This leaves the locals relying on bodegas, convenience stores, and fast food restaurants for their food needs. A food desert is a strong indicator that a neighborhood is not where you want to live.
Mapping a route to the nearest grocery store can help you spot if a potential new home is in a food desert. If you’re in an urban area and have to travel more than one mile, or cross a major barrier like a river or a freeway, to reach a significant grocery store, you’re in a food desert.
Besides the food desert consideration, look at the route you would need to drive or walk on your weekly grocery run. Ask yourself if it will be a safe trip to make regularly.
8. Neighborhood Watch Signs
An area with a neighborhood watch sign up is likely safer than one without one. This might seem counterintuitive since these groups are formed because local homeowners feel the need for them. But that’s not always in response to higher crime rates.
A neighborhood watch sign doesn’t necessarily mean the neighbors are afraid because the area has high crime. It means they’re invested in staying safe. For this reason, neighborhood watch neighborhoods are often safer than those without one.
9. Police & Ambulance Response Times
How quickly police, fire, and medical services can get to you in an emergency is an important neighborhood safety sign.
Look up the emergency response times for neighborhoods you’re considering. You can usually find these statistics in the local press or by contacting public safety departments directly. Compare them to the following averages:
- Police in Urban Areas: 6 minutes
- Police in Rural Areas: 15 minutes
- Fire in Urban Areas: 6 minutes
- Fire in Rural Areas: 15 minutes
- Ambulance in Urban Areas: 9 minutes
- Ambulance in Rural Areas: 15 minutes
Higher response times mean losing valuable minutes in an emergency. They can also reflect budget or enforcement priorities that don’t serve your family. This shouldn’t be a dealbreaker, but it’s worth putting on your list of considerations.
10. Nearby Water
Drowning is the third leading cause of death worldwide and the second leading cause of accidental death in America for children ages 1 to 14. It’s not as headline-grabbing as violent crime, but water safety is essential in keeping your family healthy.
Is your property near a river, lake, or other natural water? Do the neighbors have pools or water features? Is there a community pool or city water park nearby? Does the home you’re considering have a pool, pond, or hot tub?
None of these are a reason not to live someplace, but each means you should develop a safety plan for that particular body of water. Water safety for a river in your backyard is different from safety for a neighborhood pool, and both are different from safety for a duck pond two blocks away.
Learn what’s there and what you’d need to do and know to stay safe.
Final Thought: A Little DIY
People rarely move into a home that’s 100% perfect for them. Some fixing up, new paint, and other changes are pretty standard for most moves. While you’re making those initial changes, consider some of these easy DIY security upgrades:
- Replace standard door jamb screws with 2‑inch screws.
- Trim back front lawn plants for maximum visibility.
- Put combination locks on latches for your gates.
- Install web-based cameras like Ring or Nest.
- Cover walkways with gravel to make them hard to sneak along.
- Add pins or rods to any window without two or more locks.
None of these actions take much money or more than an afternoon of effort, and they’ll make your new home much more secure than it was before you did them.
These neighborhood safety signs and tips will have you feeling secure in your next move. Have additional tips? Let us know in the comments!
Bethany Gilbert was a real estate agent in Michigan for a decade and is now a business consultant.