A number of years ago, in Chicago, a young woman was brutally murdered in her car. She had gone out to a late night party, leaving her husband home with a cold. When she hadn’t turned up at 1 a.m., he called the police.
It’s a scene that has been played out in many cities and towns across the country. Acts of random violence, such as robbery, rape or murder, have unfortunately permeated all levels of society. No city or suburb or small town seems safe anymore.
But random violence can be tempered by a few simple precautions. And making sure the house, townhouse or condominium you buy is a safe one should be your first priority. Especially if you’re a single woman, living alone.
There are two things to consider when looking for a safe place to live: The neighborhood and the home.
The best way to determine if a neighborhood is safe enough (no neighborhood is completely “safe” anymore) is to spend time there before you buy the home. Walk around the neighborhood alone and with friends or family. Do you feel safe? Do you see any unsavory characters lingering in the streets or in the local park? Are the local store owners friendly or hostile to a new face? A hostile glance may be a sign of trouble in the neighborhood, or a bad day at the office.
Look for signs of crime in the neighborhood. Broken glass in the streets could point to a car theft problem. Have the residents formed an anti crime watch group that displays signs and meets on a regular basis? That could mean good prevention or fighting a problem. The local newspaper might list crimes committed in the neighborhood.
If you have children, finding a decent neighborhood presents an even bigger problem. If the home you’re looking at has a backyard, try to imagine your children playing in it. Is it fenced in? Is there a way they could wander out into the street? Can you see them from the kitchen or back room window? If the house doesn’t have a backyard, where will your children play? Are you comfortable having them play in the park down the street without adult supervision?
What do the local schools look like? Graffiti covered walls might point to a gang, or even drug, problem at the local grammar or high school.
Once you’ve found a comfortable neighborhood, inspect each home for its security value.
Parking can be a huge problem, especially for those who live in densely populated urban areas.
The Chicago woman lived in a neighborhood called Old Town, renown for its trendy, renovated 19th century homes, excellent shopping area and lively restaurants and nightlife. Unfortunately, her townhouse, like so many others in that area, did not have a parking space, requiring her to park on the street. And as the city had been fixing her street, she had to find other streets on which to park. That meant walking home alone in the dark, sometimes late at night.
Does the home you’re thinking of buying have some form of parking? Is there an attached garage? If you have to park on the street, is there usually or always a space available directly in front of the home? Try to imagine walking from the car to your front door alone at night. Is that something you really want to do?
Safety inside the house is just as important. If you’re looking at a condominium, are the windows lockable? Is the unit on a high enough floor so that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for an intruder to get in? Does the building have an exterior fire escape or is there an interior stairwell?
Homes are even more vulnerable. Windows should be lockable on all floors of the house, and sliding glass doors should be able to be bolted. Other good security ideas include motion detector lights, automatic timer lights, deadbolts, panic buttons, steel doors with steel jams for rear entrances, fenced in gardens, a lit walkway from a detached garage, and peepholes. Window bars are appropriate in some situations, although they can make it hard to exit the home in case of a fire.
If you find the home of your dreams, but it doesn’t seem particularly secure, most of these items can be added. One of the most useful systems is a good burglar alarm. However, the problem with this, and many other security features, is that homeowners either don’t use them, or use them only when they leave the house.
Experts suggest it is more important to use the security systems when you’re inside the house, particularly at night. If someone breaks into your home when you’re not there, the only thing you’ll lose are your valuables.
Jan. 8, 2005.