After running into a guy who moved to Baltimore with his wife three months ago, and listening to his story about moving away already (his wife was robbed, and someone tried to break into their home the day after they moved in) — I had to ask him a few questions about how and why they ended up in their neighborhood and what steps they took to ensure this was the neighborhood they felt comfortable in.  What he told me was a little disturbing — they did little to no research, outside of what their realtor told them.

So here are a few tips for separating the neighborhoods you might want to choose over the ones you don’t. Keep in mind, there are no guarantees, but a little research can hopefully save you a world of trouble.

Don’t believe everything your realtor says about crime, safety, what’s coming in the next year.  Realtors sell houses, period.  They’re not there to look out for you — they’re there to make money, can’t blame them for that.

Visit a potential neighborhood several times — once at 11 AM on a weekday, once on a weeknight, once around 10 PM a Saturday night.

  • During the weekday morning, are the streets quiet, or are people milling around…seemingly with nowhere to go?  Are the streets devoid of cars, or does it look like everyone is home?  If everyone is home, this could be a sign that you’re about to move into a neighborhood with a high unemployment rate.
  • On the weeknight visit, if you noticed all the cars were gone during the day — what’s the parking like in the evening?  Will you be able to find easy parking, or will you have to park far away, or circle the block again and again?  Are nearby restaurants and shops still open?  Or did they all close at 6 PM?
  • For the Saturday night visit, check for noise and activity in the street.  Whatever is going on — make sure you’ll be comfortable with it right outside your door.

Some general things to look for:

  • Are the streets clean, with public trashcans available?
  • Are the streets well-lit?
  • Are there vacant homes interspersed with the occupied homes?  How many?
  • If you had to walk instead of drive, are there supermarkets, restaurants, other amenities within a reasonable walk?  Would you feel comfortable going from Point A to Point B without a car?

Talk to neighbors and business owners in the community, and talk to a police officer who works in that district. Also, talk to people in the community and/or homeowner’s associations — they’re an invaluable resource.

See what food delivery options are available to you.  If they’re extremely limited, it could indicate a crime problem.  Log into a service like seamless.com and use an address in that neighborhood — you should have multiple restaurants to choose from.

Of course, use Google and the local online media to see what pops up — if all the stories are about blight and crime, well, time to come up with a Plan B neighborhood.

Good luck with your search — and to “Resident B” — I’m very sorry about what happened to you and your wife.  I hope your next city treats you with kindness.