10 Neighborhood Safety Signs to Look for Before Moving

Safe, tree-lined neighborhood

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

A safe neighborhood in the daytime

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

Local hospital with trauma unit

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

Safe neighborhood school zone signs

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

Neighborhood crime scene

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

Kids playing in their safe neighborhood

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

Neighborhood Trader Joe's grocery store

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

Neighborhood watch sign is an important neighborhood safety sign

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

Yellow ambulance quickly heading to a local call is a neighborhood safety sign to look out for

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

Aerial view of a neighborhood with lots of water nearby

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

Home safety cameras for neighborhood safety

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.

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