Buying a house is a big decision financially and thus many different variables must be taken into consideration to ensure a wise choice. Fortunately, many resources for looking into your prospective neighborhood are readily available online and in public records.
Looking at the city or town’s website is a good way to get an overview of the city and its services. Also, websites such as Epodunk create city profiles by compiling data from outside sources from which you can learn about census and demographic information, median household income, crime rates, public transportation options, local festivities and events, education information and local attractions such as museums and historical sites.
Population Estimates and Projections
The US Census Bureau publishes data from its surveys in a searchable online database, providing detailed information about the residents of a local area. This information can be used to learn whether potential neighbors are predominantly younger or older, their average family incomes, levels of education, if there are many single people or families with children, and many other factors.
The IRS provides statistics about tax filers, as well as information about year-to-year migration (available for a fee). If many people are leaving the area, it could be indicative of an undesirable living environment.
The US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor releases extensive employment data by industry and occupation at national, state and local levels. Looking at this information can provide insight into the local job market in your field.
Weather and Environmental Concerns
NOAA is a division of the US Department of Commerce. The website provides information about current weather conditions as well as climate data records in any location.
Property Disclosure Reports
For a given piece of property, a property disclosure report (available for a fee) shows whether the property is in a flood area, fire hazard zone, earthquake fault zone, seismic hazard zone (landslide and liquefaction) and provides statutory natural hazard disclosures. In California, JCP Property Disclosure Reports is a service frequently used by real estate agents for their clients.
Every year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation publishes Uniform Crime Reports with crime statistics for the nation. In these reports, you can find detailed statistics for individual cities or counties which detail crime rates for several categories of violent and property crimes, as well as data on how many cases are solved by local law enforcement agencies. The Crime Reports from previous years are also useful for comparison, to understand whether crime has been increasing or decreasing.
Local Police Departments
Many local police departments allow you to search for recent crime surrounding a given location or street address. This may appear as a map with pinpointed crimes, or a list. This is the best way to background the crime in your immediate neighborhood.
Local newspapers are invaluable for learning about community culture; additionally, the police blotter in the newspaper is a good way to learn about crime in your prospective neighborhood.
Schools and Education
State Department of Education
Each state has a Department of Education, which offers statistics by school, district, county and state levels for academic performance index, adequate yearly progress and program improvement. For those with families or planning to have a family, a good school system is an important consideration.
Property Information and Neighbors
County Assessor Office
Each county has an assessor; most have a website with an online database showing ownership and property assessment information for a given address or parcel number. Assessor maps and property ownership information are usually available for free or a nominal fee at the assessor’s office, in person or by submitting a written request. This allows you to ascertain the value of your property and surrounding properties, as well as determine the owners of nearby properties.
County Clerk Recorder Office
Each county has a recorder’s office from which you can order public information such as deeds and leases, mortgages, recorded judgments and tax liens. These resources create a history of your property, and allow you to learn about previous owners and your neighbors.
Compiled by the United States Department of Justice, this website compiles state data for registered sex offenders; online searches can be done by name, by zip code, by county, by city or town and by state or nationally. Sex offender registries are also put together by individual states and third parties.