Signs You Live in a Bad Neighborhood (And The Upside...)
There are Memorials for Murder Victims
OK. This may be the biggest red flag, but in my defense, the memorial that is DIRECTLY ACROSS THE STREET FROM MY APARTMENT wasn't there when I came to look at it. Nor was it there when I signed the lease.
What's a memorial? There are candles set up in a specific spot. There may be balloons or signs as well. Someone undoubtedly died there, and you can bet it wasn't from old age. The presence of one of these (or several, as is the case for my 'hood) means you probably (definitely) live in a bad neighborhood.
There is Broken Glass/are Broken Windows
According to the "Broken Windows Theory", introduced in 1982 by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling, serious crimes are less prevalent when less serious crimes, such as vandalism (e.g. "broken windows"), are addressed. That is, if minor problems like broken windows are not addressed relatively quickly, larger issues - like squatting and fires - tend to arise. If broken windows are fixed, trash is picked up, and unsightly "tags" are covered, it indicates that someone cares. If someone cares, then maybe you should, too.
Take a stroll through the neighborhood. Are there broken windows, or worse, chunks of teal glass on the ground? If so, you're looking at another huge red flag. While crime maps and your local sex offender database can give a basic idea of the misconduct in an area, not all crimes are reported. Doing your due diligence involves hitting the streets at multiple hours of the day, observing your surroundings and speaking to future neighbors whenever possible.
There are a Lot of (Tall) Fences (and Bars on Windows)
Want to discourage perps from trawling your property? A tall, seemingly impenetrable fence is one of the easiest ways to do so.
What if they scale the fence? Add double defense with bars on the windows.
If you see either (or both) of these elements, chances are the neighbors have been victims of a property crime - or know someone who has - and you might be, too, if you relocate there.
There are a lot of Guard Dogs
THIS ONE REALLY GRINDS MY GEARS.
Despite the fact that dogs have been domesticated to be members of our human families, some foolish individuals choose to "house" them outside - all day and all night - to protect their precious belongings. This often results in an extremely aggressive and undersocialized dog who will bark, growl, and snarl at anyone who dares walk by the tall fence they are undoubtedly stuck behind.
I personally would not want to live near anyone who thinks it's OK to encourage violent or aggressive behavior in dogs - often pit bulls who already have a bad reputation - to protect their flat screen TVs and Raiders memorabilia.
Folks, this warning is two-fold: Beware of dog, and their misguided human(s).
There is a lot of "Tagging"
Mind you, I'm not talking about graffiti (relax, "Banksy" fans). I'm referring to tagging, which looks terrible and is basically just a pissing contest fought in unintelligible scribbles (tell 'em why you mad, Camille!).
This red flag is similar to broken windows; if people care so little about their neighborhood that they will mark it with hideous scrawlings, you can be sure they cannot be counted on to help prevent crime. In fact, they may actually be the perpetrators of future crimes. Clearly adept at sneakily doing illegal activity, what's to stop them from breaking into your car in the middle of the night? Something to consider...
Silver Lining aka The Upside
I don't mean to scare you. There are some upsides to settling in a less than desirable area.
If your current or future neighborhood has a few (or all) of the above characteristics, don't fret - there may be an upside. Ever hear the phrase "Buy low, sell high"? In real estate, the concept is simple: buy a property as an investment. Sit on it and maybe put some money into improving it. Sell later when it's a seller's market (i.e. many more buyers than properties for sale). You will recoup your initial investment and (much) more.
So your neighborhood is kind of crummy (for now). So what? If you're not being victimized, why not stick it out and invest in making it better? Chances are you can find dilapidated or older homes in need of updating at relatively low prices. Invest in one and you may be looking at a hot rental property in a few years. Take San Francisco's Mission District. Once considered a dangerous area, homes now easily sell for $1-2 million dollars. Rents in San Francisco have exploded; according to rentjungle.com, the average one bedroom rents for a whopping $3,100 a month, while the average two bedroom is $4,268.
Here are some signs that your neighborhood is destined for a boom:
- A shopping center with a "classy" big box or nationwide chain store is slated to be built there (or is already there). Think Target, Whole Foods, Trader Joe's. These are all well-respected national stores; I can't think of a "bad" neighborhood that has one of these - especially not a Whole Foods.
- There are a lot of young, "upwardly mobile" people moving in. These are your unmarried and married, but childless 20-30 year olds. These are your DINKS: double income, no kids. They are energetic and invest in their neighborhoods by planting and tending to community gardens, organizing events, and patronizing local establishments.
- There is new construction of either apartment buildings or single-family homes. Developers have identified your neighborhood as the next hot spot and are literally getting in on the ground floor. Now's your chance to secure your spot in one of the existing structures that undoubtedly costs less than newer housing.
- Similarly, if a new public transportation system (or extension of an existing one, such as BART to San Jose) is in the works, it's a really really good sign that the area is "up and coming". Not only is public transportation great for the environment, it provides other positive externalities such as increases in economic and personal opportunities. In fact, according to the American Public Transportation Association, home values are an average of 42% higher if the home is located near public transportation with high-frequency service.