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Phoenix Forward

5 key safety questions for potential homeowners

5 safety questions for prospective homeowners

As the country’s real estate market gets back on its feet, house hunters are finding a wide range of properties on the market — especially in neighborhoods that were on the rise when the housing bubble burst in 2008. For a few years, these up-and-coming areas were caught in limbo. Now, potential homeowners are giving them a fresh look.

When assessing a neighborhood, checking property values is an essential first step. However, old problems sometimes resurface in neighborhoods just getting back on track, so it’s equally important to research such things as petty crime, loitering or drug-related activity. Reginald Grigsby, campus college chair for the College of Criminal Justice and Security at the University of Phoenix Main Campus, recommends that home buyers ask five key questions about neighborhood safety:

1. Is neighborhood crime going up or down?

Look into the overall safety of your prospective neighborhood, Grigsby says, by contacting the local police department for a current assessment, or by checking the police department’s website for up-to-date statistics.

2. How are police relations with the community?

Query the local police department about its relationship with local residents and community program leaders. The relationship should be positive and cooperative, with opportunities for outreach and discussion. For instance, see if there are CompStat meetings, which are accountability and strategy sessions designed to encourage open communication, a sense of trust and improved neighborhood safety. “[Members of] the community have to be willing to call police, report problems, witness and testify in court,” explains Grigsby, who recently retired from the Oceanside, Calif., police force after 30 years.

3. What is the house’s history?

“You can also ask your real estate agent about any crimes in a particular house,” Grigsby notes. Real estate seller disclosure laws vary from state to state, so check local requirements to find out what’s covered.

4. What are the owner-occupancy rates?

Ask your realtor or local census bureau about the number of homeowners living in the houses they own. A high owner-occupancy level generally shows that homeowners are invested in the community and its quality of life — not just looking for profit. “Are there a bunch of absentee homeowners who are renting their properties out to make money?” Grigsby asks. “That happens a lot in [recovering] neighborhoods, so you need to watch for that.”

5. What grassroots improvement efforts are available?

“You need to see how well the community comes together,” Grigsby says. “Are people really interested in improving the neighborhood?”

Talk to current residents and your real estate agent about general community involvement. Are there neighborhood watch programs, local issues-based organizations or a community prosecutor? Grigsby also suggests looking for outreach services and other resources addressing education, addiction, public safety or family planning. These can signal community investment and support, too.