Should crime rates stop you from buying a house?

Why crime shouldn’t stop you from making your next big move.

Ben @ Nested
Property enthusiast

Ever fallen in love with a property that looks suspiciously cheap? Perhaps you’ve done a viewing and can’t work out why those lovely walk-in wardrobes and granite worktops come at such a knock-down price. Sure, it could be the hidden Japanese knotweed, asbestos in the loft, or a covered-up wall with a secret crack of doom, but the chances are, local crime levels might have something to do with it. So, should high crime rates deter you from buying the house (or fortress) of your dreams?

Whisper it, but crime is actually falling

Let’s get this right — crime is real, often has tragic consequences, and one victim is one too many. However, when you’re buying a house you have to be led by facts, not fears. There’s compelling evidence that contrary to the claims of tabloid newspapers, crime rates in Britain have been falling for about 20 years. Or to quote the Office for National Statistics (ONS), otherwise known as the biggest number crunchers in the country: “Over recent decades we have seen continued falls in overall levels of crime.”

The trend is the same across many developed countries. In the USA, the murder rate is at a 40-year low, and 2019 was the 16th year in a row that property crimes fell. The overall crime rate in the UK is at “one-sixth of early 90s levels”, reports Wired, who credit technologies such as car immobilisers, DNA analysis and chip-and-PIN for the decrease. Others attribute the great crime drop mystery to declining heroin use, the rise of video games (more people staying indoors), and even the withdrawal of leaded petrol.

The caveat, of course, is that some crimes are rising; if you’ve been the victim of a moped theft, or had your catalytic converter nicked from under your car, statistics and pie charts will come as no consolation. But at the same time, crimes such as burglary have long been decreasing — a 3% annual decrease at the last count. Consumer goods like laptops and televisions aren’t as expensive these days, so is it really worth breaking into a home to drag a 50-inch Panasonic out the window? It’s easy to be swayed by screeching headlines, but while newspapers have hard copies to sell, you’ve got a home and a future to think about. Do let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Crime can happen anywhere

Of course, we can quote statistics all day, but ultimately, crime is also about how you feel. If you’re walking through a neighbourhood and you see a shifty-eyed bloke pouring petrol on the pavement, you’re not going to feel great about living there. Equally, if your first impression is of a family having a picnic while their designer dogs graze on the grass, you might feel better about things (unless you’re afraid of dogs).

The truth is that no neighbourhood is completely immune from crime, whether it’s petty shoplifting or an armed heist at a diamond dealer. In fact, if you look too closely at crime stats, you can worry yourself sick thinking about all the misdemeanours in places where ‘stuff like this isn’t supposed to happen’. Some things are better left unGoogled. Do you really want to know there’s been a bare-knuckle fight 0.4 miles from your front door? Bad things happen — yes, even in Hampstead — and since these events are usually beyond your control, it’s probably best to block it all out. Which isn’t to say we shouldn’t care, but that we shouldn’t let the possibility of crime have too much influence over our best-laid plans. If we used statistics to determine every life decision, we’d never get in a car, or go singing in the rain during a lightning strike. And yes, there are wrong ‘uns out there who you wouldn’t want to bump into in a darkened alley, but if you live your life hiding behind the curtains, you’ll never meet the good eggs, or enjoy the hustle and bustle of the real world — warts ‘n’ all.

And while escaping the big, bad city may seem appealing if you have a young family, sadly there is no simple shortcut to leaving crime behind. Many areas beyond London have been affected by the tragic consequences of knife crime; police figures show that in Lancashire, for example, knife offences doubled between 2014 and 2018, while parts of Manchester and Liverpool have been hit harder than some areas of the capital.

There’s no downplaying the scourge of knife crime; in fact, Home Office figures for England and Wales show that the 12 months before March 2019 was the worst year on record for knife offences. But even if we account for this sad reality, the recent historical data shows that knife crime tends to fluctuate; 2014, for instance, had the lowest ever numbers. Cities like Glasgow have shown that with the right solutions, a reduction in knife crime is possible. In the end, we should all hope this complex social problem gets the attention it deserves.

How to check crime rates when buying a house

Even if you feel chilled as ice about crime rates, it’s worth using the resources you have to research your chosen neighbourhood. Your first port of call should be, which gives monthly stats on crimes committed in each neighbourhood ward. A simple click or two gives you comprehensive information on what types of crime were carried out, the status of each investigation, and details of the local police officers. Check your chosen neighbourhood against others and hopefully, it will provide the reassurance you need. Even if it puts you off, better to know the truth than buy with your eyes closed!

If you’re the type of person who digs data, the ONS have a handy tool which gives you an exact percentage breakdown of how likely you are to fall victim to a crime in any chosen postcode. What does it show? Well, let’s take the London borough with the highest reported crime levels — Westminster — and input the postcode for Charing Cross, the exact centre of central London. It tells us that in a 12-month period, young professional male homeowners have a 3.9% chance of falling victim to a violent crime. For women in the same situation, the annual risk is 2.4%. For other crimes, the picture is similar: robbery and theft carries a 1.9% risk for men and 1.7% for women.

At the other end of the scale, the London borough with the fewest reported crimes — Kingston upon Thames — makes for prettier reading. In sleepy Surbiton, for example, a typical street has a burglary rate of 1%, compared to the 2.4% national average. These figures are just a snapshot, so it’s always worth doing a little digging to see for yourself. While data can’t tell us everything, it’s better than a hunch. Naturally, we’d love to live in a world where the numbers were zero, but all you can do is arm yourself (metaphorically) with the facts and decide if the risks are acceptably low.

Aside from facts and figures, local online forums can be a good indicator of recurring problems such as anti-social behaviour. And of course, there’s no substitute for putting on your investigative hat and getting a feel for the neighbourhood, not just moseying around on Street View. Don’t be afraid to knock on a neighbour and ask whether they like living in the area. They might give you an honest account that either puts you off or calms your fears. And if they open the door with a chainsaw and blood-stained gown, you’ll know not to live there.

Don’t let crime stop you from buying a home

In the end, once you’ve done your homework and taken all reasonable precautions, some things are simply down to lady luck and father fate. But with a positive, data-driven approach, using your head and your heart, there’s every chance you’ll sleep easily in your new home.

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