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When you’re shopping for a new house, safety should be a top priority. It can be hard to tell how secure a neighborhood is from a single visit, especially if you’re focused on the house’s features and layout. Before you decide to buy a property, do some research to make sure the neighborhood is safe.

Check Public Records
Several websites compile information on crime and police activity in specific communities. Look for one that collects data on the area where the house you’re considering is located and enter the address to find a list of crimes reported in the neighborhood. Records are usually broken down by crime type and date. Look at which types of crime are most prevalent and whether crime rates have increased, decreased or remained steady over time.

Some websites provide crime statistics based on population, but they can be misleading. A small number of crimes reported in a community with a low population can lead to a high crime rate, even though few crimes were committed. Keep that in mind when comparing crime rates in various neighborhoods.

Talk to Residents
Public records can provide valuable information, but there may be important facts that they don’t include. For example, someone may hang out in a neighborhood and act in a way that residents consider suspicious, but the police may not have cause to make an arrest. Crime may also go unreported because individuals are unwilling to go to the police for some reason.

People who currently live in the neighborhood may be able to provide you with this sort of information. If you explain that you’re thinking about moving into the community, they may share facts that you could not learn any other way.

Many communities organize neighborhood watch groups in which volunteers conduct patrols and report suspicious activity to the police. The presence of such a group means that people look out for each other, but it could also mean that crime became such a problem that residents felt the need to take things into their own hands because they didn’t believe the police were devoting enough time and resources to keep the community safe. Talk to members of a neighborhood watch group about why the group was formed, the impact it has had and the current safety of the community.

Look Around
You may learn a lot just by driving through the neighborhood at various times of day and night. If children are playing outside, that means their parents consider the community safe. If you notice residents jogging or walking dogs in the early morning or evening hours when there are few other people around, those are clues that they feel comfortable in the neighborhood.

Make Safety a Priority
When you look at a house, consider the safety of the entire neighborhood. There may be a lot going on that you can’t see, so check official records and talk to current residents to get a full picture.