Murders don't occur solely in "other people's" neighborhoods. Or even "bad" neighborhoods. They happen everywhere.
Last year, in the nice community where I have a winter home, a doctor was bludgeoned to death by two men allegedly hired by her husband.
Every place has a high-profile homicide every once in a while.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every state experienced homicides in 2014 -- some far more than others. Washington, D.C.'s rate is the highest in the land: 13.72 killings per 100,000 people, with 97 people having been killed in the nation's capital in 2014. California had the highest number of homicides, at 1,813, yet its rate was lower, at 4.63 per 100,000 people.
Louisiana had the next-highest rate at 11.67, followed by Mississippi at 11.41 percent. On the other end of the spectrum, New Hampshire's rate was 1.28 and Massachusetts' was 1.61. Another way to look at it: You are almost 10 times as likely to be a homicide victim in D.C. as you are in New Hampshire.
Statistics like this are interesting, but they are not terribly useful for homebuyers worried about crime, because they don't include neighborhood-level -- or even county-level -- data. And many folks want to know what bad things are happening in the communities they are considering.
In a recent survey by BDX, an online marketing resource for builders (for which I write occasionally), people said the No. 1 thing missing in their real estate web searches are crime figures.
"For me, I want the crime statistics in the area," said a woman named Stacy. "I want to know home burglary information. I know the area where I live now just doesn't feel safe to me, so it's important for my next home to be in a better neighborhood then I am living in now. I want to do more research and not just base (my decision) on price and amenities."
There's good reason for Stacy's interest. Besides the possibility of becoming a victim, property values can plummet when a murder takes place. According to a recent study by Finder.com, a personal finance comparison site, the national housing market loses some $2.3 billion a year in value because of homicides.
"Not only are people creeped out by the thought that someone has been killed," says Finder's Fred Schebesta, "a murder creates a perception that the area is generally less safe and has a high crime rate."
Again, though, Finder's stats are not particularly useful because the numbers aren't local enough. So the question is, how do would-be buyers find what they need to know about crime to make an informed decision?
Fortunately, there are sources. You just have to do some digging.
Start with RealtyTrac's Registered Criminal Offender Risk Index. The index is based on the number of registered criminal offenders -- sex offenders, child predators, kidnappers and violent offenders -- as a percentage of total population in 10,358 ZIP codes. A ZIP code's ratio is then put into one of five categories, ranging from Very High to Very Low.
RealtyTrac found that average home values and home equities were lower in areas with a higher criminal offender index.
"This new index provides concrete evidence that registered criminal offenders pose not only a potential safety risk for homeowners and their families, but also a potential financial risk," said the data company's Daren Blomquist.
The index found that Greenville, South Carolina, had the highest offender index: 73 percent of its homes are located in ZIP codes in the Very High criminal offender category.
Data for the index comes from each state's online criminal offender registry. You can access the registry for your jurisdiction at your state's website.
Unfortunately, most states list only sex offenders. Just a few go beyond that. Montana, for example, also lists violent offenders, while Arkansas and Washington list child kidnappers.
Drilling down -- and for a fee -- you can get a Home Disclosure Report from RealtyTrac (homedisclosure.com), which will not only give you crime stats for a home, but also list local hazards, the property's history, disaster risks and school information. Besides putting your mind at ease -- or setting your antennae to wiggling -- you can use this information as a negotiating tool.
Another source -- also for a fee -- is Homefacts.com, which offers up data on everything RealtyTrac does and more, including where drug labs have been found, the politics of the community you are considering, air quality and the location of such key amenities as banks, hospitals, libraries and fire stations.