How to research crime in a suburb before buying a home

Blue police tape over a window.Learn how to research crime rates in a suburb before buying so you can keep your family safe.

Whether buying a family home or an investment you need to know how safe the suburb is. There are many free tools you can use to find out just how much crime is happening in a suburb you're looking to buy in.

The best place to start is with the latest crime statistics. Each state or territory’s police force gathers data on the criminal offences that are committed within their borders, including the numbers of murders, assaults, robberies, sexual assaults, break and enters and incidents of theft.

These statistics are gathered online and can usually be accessed through the website of each police force. You can examine the statistics for different local government areas and suburbs, compare upward and downward trends in the crimes committed, and even look at interactive crime maps to see where crimes have occurred in your suburb or street, how often they occurred and how serious they were.

Some maps even demonstrate areas that are hotspots for particular crimes, for example assault or car theft, helping you form a clearer picture of the risks present in different areas.

Where can I find crime statistics for my state or territory?

Want to take a closer look at the crime statistics in your area? Locate your state government website below.

How can I use crime statistics to compare suburbs?

If you're looking at various suburbs or cities then you simply need to look at the relevant data and see how the different areas stack up. If you're looking at a single suburb it's a good idea to compare neighbouring areas.

Of course, exploring an area on foot, talking to locals and getting a feel for the area is also very important. But hard statistics can really give you a more solid answer.

Here's a fictionalised example of homebuyers doing their crime research before buying.

Lisa and Jack do their crime rate homework

Woman and man searching for something.Jack and his wife Lisa are looking to buy a home in Sydney where they can raise their two daughters. Before they buy anywhere, however, Jack and Lisa want to be certain that their daughters will be raised in a safe neighbourhood. They decide to research the two suburbs where they’ve found properties that match their buying requirements: Denistone in the Ryde Local Government Area (LGA) and Granville in the Parramatta LGA.

They head to the website of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, and they find the most recent crime report featuring statistics for the 12 months to September 2015. They examine a few key areas to determine which suburb is safer.

Crime type Ryde LGA (rate of recorded criminal incidents per 100,000 population) Parramatta LGA (rate of recorded criminal incidents per 100,000 population)
Murder 0.6 1.2
Assault (non domestic violence related) 0.4 0.9
Sexual assault 0.5 0.8
Robbery with a firearm 0.4 2.4
Robbery without a weapon 0.3 1.7
Break and enter dwelling 0.6 1.1
Motor vehicle theft 0.3 1.1
Steal from motor vehicle 0.5 1.1

As the table shows, there is a lower crime rate across the board in the Ryde Local Government Area when compared to Parramatta. Digging deeper, Jack and Lisa enter their two suburbs into the crime mapping tool on the bureau’s website, and discover that markedly more incidents of crimes such as robbery, theft, and drug offences occur in and around Granville than in Denistone.

Taking this on board, Jack and Lisa decide that they would prefer to purchase a property in the safer suburb of Denistone in the Ryde region.

What other information should I look for?

There are several other indicators you can examine to check out just how safe a suburb is. The relationship between unemployment and crime has been well documented over the years, while low socio-economic status is also a recurring factor in the incidence of crime. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) gathers a wide range of information on crime across Australia, but it also has plenty of useful data on unemployment rates, average household incomes and more.

You can access all this information by searching the ABS database online. Another useful place to research is on real estate and property investment websites. These sites compile profiles of suburbs all across Australia, particularly those in capital cities, including demographic information, weekly income figures, average rental yield and much more.

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How living in a high-crime area can harm your finances

Apart from the obvious problems associated with safety when it comes to living in an area where crime is rife, buying a property in a high-crime area can also affect your bank balance. The crime rate of your suburb can affect:

  • Your mortgage. If you’re an investor looking for a loan, prospective lenders will examine crime and unemployment rates in the suburb where you plan to buy. This will help them determine the likelihood of finding suitable tenants for the property to generate rental income, which in turn has an effect on your ability to repay the loan.
  • Your insurance. Home and contents insurance is an essential consideration for all homeowners, offering important financial protection in case of a wide range of insured events – including theft. If you buy a property in an area that your insurer classes as high-risk, for example if it has a higher than normal rate of break and enters, you can expect to pay more for your insurance premiums. The same occurs if you own an investment property in an area where malicious damage by tenants is more likely to occur.
  • Your future. As property buyers become more savvy when researching a property, selling the property in the future could become increasingly difficult. Social perceptions mean a lot when you’re trying to sell a property, and if a suburb has a bad reputation then many buyers will stay away. For example, if you want to sell your family home in an area with a history of violence, you will probably struggle to attract the right buyers.

More tips to find a safe suburb

  • Do your online research. The simple act of doing a Google search for ‘where is a safe suburb to live in X’ can generate a whole lot of useful information. Real estate websites and forums offer handy suburb profiles and also give users a chance to vote for and recommend suburbs that are safe places to live. Remember to factor in a certain level of personal bias from residents of those suburbs when they post their opinion.
  • Ask for recommendations. If you don’t know a city or a particular area well, ask your friends and family for their recommendations. A little bit of local knowledge goes a long way, so asking for some personal advice can help point you in the right direction. If you like a particular area but are unsure which suburbs are the safest and which might be a little dodgy, an experienced local real estate agent can provide a wealth of knowledge.
  • Get your feet on the ground. All the research in the world won’t tell you anywhere near as much as visiting a suburb or street yourself. Physically taking a drive or walk through a particular neighbourhood is the best way to get a true ‘feel’ for whether or not an area is safe. Make sure to visit at different times of day, during the week and on the weekend, to work out whether you could see yourself living in the area.

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