You may have lived in the same neighborhood for many years, perhaps all of your life, and think you know everything that’s going on. You chat with your next-door neighbors from time to time, and wave to the couple down the street whose names you’ve forgotten. But how much do you really know about your neighborhood? If an emergency arose and you suddenly needed to call the owner of the house on the corner, could you quickly find the owner’s name and telephone number? Would you know if a sexual predator lived a few houses down the street? Thanks to the Internet, much of this information is available to you at a moment’s notice — provided you know where to look. Here are five Internet sites that will help you learn more about your neighborhood — and they might be useful in checking out a new neighborhood before you move.
5. Neighborhood Directory Map
Enter your street name and city, and in a matter of seconds, Neighbors.Whitepages.com brings up an aerial map of your street, complete with the names of the residents in each home, and their landline phone numbers. It’s a great resource for organizing a neighborhood party, or contacting neighbors with your safety concerns.
4. Map of Registered Sex Offenders
When you first visit the site FamilyWatchdog.us and enter your street, as the map pops up, you may be stunned to see just how many “hits” show up in your neighborhood. Click on the icon, and a photo of the registered offender shows up. The site launched in response to the 2005 assault and murder of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford, who was abducted by a neighbor and convicted sex offender.
3. Social Explorer Maps
The site SocialExplorer.com features more than 18,000 maps and billions of pieces of data, including easy-to-access U.S. Census data dating to 1790. The site offers both free and subscription services, but the free version offers plenty of data, including the percentage of people living in poverty in your neighborhood; the percentage of homes that are owned compared to rentals; and the average rent in your neighborhood. Those are all factors that can affect the value of your home.
This sounds too obvious, right? Yet in an age where seemingly everyone from toddlers on up is on Facebook, some people are surprised to find their neighborhood maintains a Facebook page. This is often done officially through the homeowners association, but pages are sometimes maintained by individuals. These pages can be an invaluable tool in neighborhood watches, as neighbors can freely share information on suspicious individuals and vehicles, home break-ins and other concerns much quicker and easier than they could through a group email.
A couple of former Microsoft executives launched the real estate database Zillow.com in 2005. It offers data on more than 100 million homes, placed on aerial maps, showing estimated home values, homes for sale or rent, and more. There’s even a map showing the number of homes where owners are “underwater” in their mortgage (or owe more on their mortgage than the home is worth), something you would certainly want to know before moving into a neighborhood. Zillow’s estimates of home values, called “Zestimates,” have been both praised for their accuracy, but criticized for being way off the mark in some areas. As with any research, it’s best to use a couple of different sources, but Zillow is a good starting point.