Buy Alexandria Real Estate: "She Hit Him With a Stick!": Making Your Own Judgment About the Neighborhood

Alexandria Virginia Real Estate Blog

"She Hit Him With a Stick!": Making Your Own Judgment About the Neighborhood

As a busy real estate professional and long-time Northern Virginia resident, I've been in and out of houses and neighborhoods throughout the region.  There are many communities where I'd feel safe carrying wads of cash and walking around in my pajamas on the street at 2 a.m.  However there are others neighborhoods where I wouldn't want to be caught without a bullet-proof vest, mace and a taser in broad daylight for fear that the 32 cents in my pocket and the clothes off my back would be stolen.  Okay, that might be a tad bit of exaggeration -- in my opinion, while most Northern Virginia & D.C. areas are relatively safe, some are safer than others.

The problem is that by federal law, I am unable to provide my honest opinions about a neighborhood to clients who inevitably ask "How's the Neighborhood?"  Most clients, no doubt, are asking this question innocently with a serious intent to determine whether a particular community suits their needs.



However, I have no way of knowing whether such clients have a discriminatory reason in mind, whether they are making their neighborhood choice because of racial, age, family status, sexual preferences, gender, or other reasons.  Thus, federal law makes it illegal for me (and other REALTORS) to answer "How's the Neighborhood" in a direct manner.

How's the Neighborhood?


Earlier this year, some clients and I were at a stoplight after leaving a house we viewed.  As we looked over at the neighboring house, my client shouted out in surprise "She Just Hit Him With a Stick!"  Sure enough, the mother, grandmother, housekeeper (whoever it was), hit a young child with a stick.  That was enough for my clients.  They were able to make their own determination about the neighborhood.  They decided to move on and find some other neighborhoods to consider for their house purchase.


There have been other times that I've been with clients in a neighborhood and seen lots of police action, including one time when we saw police helicopters hovering overhead.


It's not always this cut and dry.


Here's what I suggest when you are trying to determine whether a neighborhood is right for you:

  • Read my post Safe Neighborhoods in Northern Virginia & D.C.: Find Area Crime Statistics Online where I provide links to online crime statistics in each major jurisdiction.

  • Call the local police station and ask about crime in the area.

  • You can look up demographic information online.  The best source is probably the United States Census site.  There are also various sites like ZipSkinny and ZipCodeStats that provide thorough demographic information about areas by zipcode. 

  • Simply drive around the neighborhood on your own and observe at different times.  Feel free to strike up a conversation with the neighbors.  While your REALTOR can't tell you everything about a neighborhood, be sure that most neighbors will be happy to divulge everything (just think about all the Wisteria Lane gossip a la Desperate Housewives!)
  • Virginia, like all other states maintains a Sex Offender Registry through the Virginia State Police with information about sex offenders and where they live.
  • You can get lots of information about local schools on my website School Information section.

So, next time you're in my car and ask me about the neighborhood, please don't be offended if I refer you to this blog post.


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Comment balloon 62 commentsBrian Block • October 07 2008 10:27AM


That's the ticket Brian. Just look for people hitting others with sticks. BAD NEIGHBORHOOD!! Duh! Bars on windows are a clue too.

Posted by Gary Woltal, Assoc. Broker Realtor SFR Dallas Ft. Worth (Keller Williams Realty) over 9 years ago

Hi Brian, sending them off to links and handing them link sites at the beginning of the shocarring a gunwing cycle limits these questions.  I have a free handout with the company logo and my contact information to help them find out about schools and neighborhoods.  They seem to like it, unless you think they noticed I was packing heat!

Nice post Brian great advice as always.

Posted by Gary White~Grand Rapids Home Selling Pro Call: 616-821-9375, Real Estate Services You can Trust! (Flexit Realty "Flexible Home Selling Solutions") over 9 years ago

Brian-Really good advice, I will refer my clients to those websites also. Thanks again.

"Not Your Average Joe"

Joe Federico

Posted by Joseph D. Federico, Eastern Massachusetts Real Estate (Donahue Real Estate Co.) over 9 years ago

Brian - This is a terrific idea for a post, and a catchy headline to boot.  If you don't mind, I may do something similar for Austin.  Good stuff!

Posted by Jason Crouch, Broker - Austin Texas Real Estate (512-796-7653) (Austin Texas Homes, LLC) over 9 years ago

Great title, it really catches the eye.  Same with your graphics.  Yes, it's difficult sometimes to NOT answer questions, but we have to know where to send buyers to find them on their own.

Posted by Margaret Woda, Maryland Real Estate & Military Relocation (Long & Foster Real Estate, Inc.) over 9 years ago

Hi Brian.

Your title sounds like something from UTube. This is an excellent way to get the point across without getting in trouble.

Posted by Susan Peters, The Better it Looks the Better it Sells (Dove Realty Inc.) over 9 years ago

Brian:  I often suggest that my buyers call their own local police and find out about the crime in their current neighborhood so they can have a comparison when calling about the one they are considering moving to.  If you've never paid attention to crime stats, you may be surprised that it is unavoidable no matter where you live.  But being able to compare what you are already comfortable with to the potential new neighborhood stops those who are unfamiliar with the stats from panicking. 

Posted by Chris Ann Cleland, Associate Broker, Bristow, VA (Long and Foster REALTORS®, Gainesville, VA) over 9 years ago

Brian, you answered my question before I could ask it! As I read your post, I wondered, "O.K., so what answer does he give"?

You answer your buyers' questions by saying, "Read my blog"!...good post.

Posted by Lanette Branch, Bel Air, MD REALTOR (RE/MAX Components) over 9 years ago

Thanks, Brian, for the information.  I get this question a lot from out of town buyers, and I have struggled with how to answer.  Now I can give them the info. without feeling like I'm not helping! 

Would you mind if I reblogged some of this?

Posted by Deidre Berry, Realtor - Florence, Alabama (WOW Real Estate) over 9 years ago least we can have suggestions for them to find out for themselves... 

Posted by Celeste "SALLY" Cheeseman, (RA) AHWD CRS ePRO OAHU HAWAII REAL ESTATE (Century 21 Liberty Homes) over 9 years ago

Brian,  Great solution.  Buyers really do expect us to provide this information directly without knowing it's against the law.

Posted by Richard Iarossi, Crofton MD Real Estate, Annapolis MD Real Estate (Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage) over 9 years ago

Great information in your post....the crime links in your previous post is great.  I had no idea those existed...usually refer people to the local police dept or the local newspapers for crime reports.  Thanks!

Posted by Sonja Adams (Samson Proprties) over 9 years ago

Brian...45-50 years ago, were you driving through my neighborhood, the child getting hit could have been me! Good post!

Bobby Wallace

Posted by Rent 2 Own Land (843-410-8732) over 9 years ago


Our job is to help our clients.  And this does just that.  If I were considering a property for myself, I would drive around at different times before putting in an offer.  It's the only type of drive by I want to be associated with. 


Posted by Kristal Perrone, Associate Broker (Hunt Real Estate- Columbus Division) over 9 years ago

Awesome post - I had one client who really liked a particular house until she saw a family across the street smoking weed outside in broad daylight while their children were running around in the yard.

Posted by Emily Lowe, Nashville TN Realtor (The Lipman Group | Sotheby's International Realty) over 9 years ago

Great post, Brian...when you can't talk about something, provide links that dish out factual data...doesn't get any easier than that, except when they say, "oh, thanks - I'll check these out later, but's the neighborhood?"!!!

Posted by Real Estate Virtual Assistant (Christine Wade) over 9 years ago

Excellent post with great points Brian. I go through similar situations with renters who come to look at an apartment and I also have learned to refer them to the Internet, library, school district or whomever else so they can do their own research. 

Posted by Mina V. Garrey, Commercial Capital Properties, Los Angeles, CA (Commercial Capital Properties - License #01768282) over 9 years ago

Brian, I send them to web sites on their own, and also tell them to call the police to ask questions. It is a fine line and I would rather them do their own research anyway. I would if I was moving.

Posted by Missy Caulk, Savvy Realtor - Ann Arbor Real Estate (Missy Caulk TEAM) over 9 years ago

It does kill me sometimes not to be able to inform clients when they are looking, but usually a good crime report for the area or a visit to the local precinct or a church for some neighborhood information helps

Posted by James Engel, KW Beverly Hills (Keller Williams Realty Beverly Hills) over 9 years ago

Brian great post. Alot of my buyers are pretty familiar with the area that they are moving into and I think most cities have what we would call good and bad areas. I often advise my buyers to drive thru the neighborhood at different times of the day to see what kind of activity is going on. Usually afternoon drive thru are the best because most people are home and so are the kids so you can see what kind of activity takes place in the neighborhood. Thanks for the tips on the websites will definetly use them .

Posted by Adrian Alvarado, Inland Empire Real Estate (MGR Real Estate Inc.) over 9 years ago

Amazing what will turn off a buyer.  The other areas may be worse then the one with the stick but if the buyer doesn't see it I guess it didn't happen.

Posted by Gene Allen, Realty Consultant for Cary Real Estate (Fathom Realty) over 9 years ago

This is an important issue for a lot of people and I have handled it much in the same way.  Driving through the neighborhood at various times of day/night - is very helpful as you point out.

Posted by Joan Whitebook, Consumer Focused Real Estate Services (BHG The Masiello Group) over 9 years ago

Brian, of course, in the District it can get totally dicey!  Many neighborhoods have association web sites that I refer buyers to.  Still, my own sounds like we're in the middle of a war zone, and it's one of the safest in the Metro area - notwithstanding my little break in last week. 

Posted by Patricia Kennedy, Home in the Capital (RLAH Real Estate) over 9 years ago

Hey Brian, This is a question most of us have to tackle from time to time.  You've provided some good reference sites here.  LOVE the graphics by the way!

Chris thanks for the idea of asking the buyers to call their local police and ask about crime stats.  That's a real common sense approach that buyers should appreciate.

Posted by Brett Tousley, Tri Cities Real Estate | (509) 420-0013 (Keller Williams Realty) over 9 years ago

That is the most common question I get asked, that I can not answer.  The next one is how are the schools.

Posted by Randy Prothero, Hawaii REALTOR, (808) 384-5645 (eXp Realty) over 9 years ago

I'd like to suggest that you tell your clients to go to that neighborhood on a saturday night about midnight and look at who's standing on the corners.  Then they'll have a good idea if that's "their" neighborhood.


Posted by Monica Hess, Kentucky's Feng Shui Master (Feng Shui This Kentucky) over 9 years ago

Hi Brian,

Great post!! A few years back we were looking for a new home. I was looking at some great listings in an area that I was not very familiar with. I put my family into the car and drove around the area to get a look see at the neiborhood. Looked great!! When I called my Realtor/Super Hero to tell her I wanted to look at some homes in that area, she said great I will email you some info. When I checked my email she had put at the top of the list the websites that I could check crime rates and school stats. Hmmm.... my first suttle hint. I caught the hint and checked the website for crime rate first. Rape was up 70% in the last 2 years. My first thought was WE ARE NOT MOVING THERE! I didn't even check the school website. From then on I checked the crime rates first in any area I was looking at buying a home. The story ends well. We are in a good area with great schools.

Posted by Anonymous over 9 years ago

Brian- This is an excellent idea for a post!  I liked how you tied in the headline, that definitely drew me in.

Posted by Matt Moxhay, Moorestown Real Estate (Prudential Fox & Roach) over 9 years ago

Great idea to post the links on your website or blog.  I'm going to take the hint and do that very soon. 

Posted by Vicki Lloyd, (619)452-9798, Real Estate San Diego California (The Lloyd Realty Group) over 9 years ago

I like the idea of just having them call a local officer. But I have had sellers get upset with that approach when the customer had not specifically ask.

Posted by Charles Stallions, 800-309-3414 - Pensacola, Pace or Gulf Breeze, Fl. (Charles Stallions Real Estate Services ) over 9 years ago

Hi Brian - Great post! This question and the other big one "How are the schools?" come up frequently for me. In Arizona, we are fortunate to have a great document called the Buyer Advisory that the Arizona Association of Realtors put together. It is a comprehensive resource that has information and links to various websites (sex offender registry, school info, etc.) The Buyer Advisory document takes the onus off of me when these questions come up.

Posted by Heather Tawes Nelson, Associate Broker, ABR, CLHMS, CRS - Scottsdale, AZ (Realty ONE Group) over 9 years ago

Awesome information.  I am in the process of re-writing my buyer's guide and this would be an excellent resource for me to add in, as well as on my website.  There's a few areas here where I'd feel safer packing heat.   It is so hard not to answer that question.  But in the end, it's all relative to what the client wants and is used to, as well.  I brought some folks in from New York and they thought our worst area was a stroll in the park.

Posted by Joel Weihe, Helping you to use your VA home loan benefits (Realty World Alliance) over 9 years ago

The best source of "neighborhood info" are the sellers, if it's owner-occupied (or tenants if it's not).  Not that they will always give 100% accurate info -- after all, they do want to sell the house so they'll play it up in a positive light.  But if asked directly, they should be willing to tell if they have personally experienced any robberies, etc.

If my buyers like a particular house, I advise them to drive by at VARIOUS times, such as weekday, weekend, and evenings.  The neighborhood may seem nice in the morning but may be totally different at night, and they shouldn't wait until move-in day to find that out.

Looking forward to reading everyone's posts!

Posted by Regina Brown over 9 years ago

Great post and thanks for the links  - very helpful

Posted by David Thomas, Phoenix,Chandler,Mesa,Gilbert,AZ (West USA Realty, Scottsdale, Arizona) over 9 years ago

Great information! Love the graphics also.

Posted by Angela Lawrence, Broker/Owner (North Carolina Homes Realty) over 9 years ago

Each and every one of your suggestions is a good call, Brian.  Exactly the way a true professional should handle such a situation.  Thanks for putting this post together!

Posted by Dave Hamill, Prescott, Arizona Real Estate (EXIT Realty Legacy) over 9 years ago

Great content.  I have had clients just knock on neighbors doors on their own initiative to ask questions.  A recent client ask me to just say that her Mother wouldn't approve if there was a concern for safety in a neighborhood.  Thankfully she didn't need the input.

Posted by Donna Quanrud, Donna Quanrud Southwest Metro Homes (Coldwell Banker Burnet) over 9 years ago

i teach real estate licensing at PSU and tonight was the Fair Housing lecture. They could NOT believe the rules and how we are NOT supposed to answer those questions.

Posted by Erica Ramus, MRE, Schuylkill County PA Real Estate (Erica Ramus - Ramus Realty Group - Pottsville, PA ) over 9 years ago

Good post Brian.  I always advise my clients to do some research if they are second guessing the areas they are looking to make their new home site.  I give them the tools to help their research easier by providing phone numbers, websites, etc. of the area. 

Posted by Stella Barbour, Principal Broker, Serving Virginia and Maryland (NoVa Brokers LLC) over 9 years ago

Great post. One of my clients answered her own question about the neighborhood when we got up to the house and noticed the bullet hole in the window. Yikes!

Posted by Kelly Sibilsky (Licensed Through Referral Connection, LTD.) over 9 years ago

I always feel bad for people who relocate from one part of the country to another.  Inevitability they think the agent is who they can look to for this type of information.  Not so.  Fortunately we have the websites and the police department to send our clients.  That way they can make the decision. 

Posted by Audrey June-Forshey, GRI, Gaithersburg, MD (RE/MAX Realty Services) over 9 years ago

Brian ... awesome as always!  I'm redoing my website and you gave me some great ideas to add to it!  Thanks soooo much ... pippa

Posted by Pippa Mac, The Woodlands TX Real Estate (Chevaux Group Realtor, The Woodlands and Spring) over 9 years ago

Brian - I often to see agents recommending one neighborhood or another in some other public forums. I wonder if they missed that class in RE school? ~Rita

Posted by Brian Burke, Broker & Advising Expert-Denver Luxury Real Estate (Kenna Real Estate) over 9 years ago

In Arizona buyers get the Buyer's Advisory that is put together by the State. It has a multitude of links that can help buyers figure out things like this on their own.

Posted by Bob & Carolin Benjamin, East Phoenix Arizona Homes (Benjamin Realty LLC) over 9 years ago

You offer a great post Brian. The questions we get more often than crime is about sexual preditors and we handle that as you suggest, offer the links and resources to the places clients can get their questions answered. Thanks for sharing and Greetings from Paradise.

Realtor Greg Gorman & Team Paradise Logo

Posted by Greg Gorman, Naples Florida Real Estate (John R Wood Properties) over 9 years ago

Brian:  What a great post... lots of very useful ideas... and the links you provided give a wealth of information.  Much better to provide links than to get into a conversation with a buyer that might come back and try to bite you.  Thanks for sharing.

Posted by Karen Anne Stone, Fort Worth Real Estate (New Home Hunters of Fort Worth and Tarrant County) over 9 years ago

Excellent post----I always have my buyers do their own research after I point them in the right direction. 

Posted by Diane Bell, Hilton Head Real Estate, Bluffton (Charter 1 Real Estate, Hilton Head, Bluffton, SC) over 9 years ago

It is definitely a difficult position to be in as the advisors we are supposed to be. We have clients that look to us for guidance and we have to be really so careful how we respond.

Posted by Michael Sahlman, e-PRO - Miami Beach Florida Luxury Homes ( - Keller Williams Realty) over 9 years ago

Yes, they think if we're the experts in the area/neighborhood, we should be able to advise them which areas are "good" and which are "bad"... not so!

Posted by Erica Ramus, MRE, Schuylkill County PA Real Estate (Erica Ramus - Ramus Realty Group - Pottsville, PA ) over 9 years ago

Brian - There's not much more I can say other than to echo all of the comments you've received about this great post.  I always refer clients to check out the online resources available to them on the neighborhoods they're interested in as well as advising them to drive by during different times and days of the week.  You've got a couple of sites I wasn't aware of and will definitely suggest them as additional resources.  Thanks for sharing!

Posted by Donna Bigda, Greater New Haven CT Real Estate (RE/MAX Alliance) over 9 years ago

Thanks Brian, bookmarked the website.

Posted by Ritu Desai, Virginia Realtor-Fairfax/Loudoun/PW-703-625-4949 (Samson Properties) over 9 years ago

I would actually worry about the neighborhood that had a guy walking around the steets in his pajamas at 2 a.m.

When I bought my first house at 25 years old, I asked my agent "How is the neighborhood" Her answer was that it was historic. I thought she meant the architecture, not the neighbors whose average age is mid 70's!


Posted by David Phelps (The Roofing Company, Inc.) over 9 years ago

That's such a tough question to get; especially for a girl like me who loves to talk.  I like your answers.  I would be scared if I saw you wandering around the neighborhood at 2am in your pj's with a was of cash in your pocket though.

Tina in Virginia

Posted by Tina Merritt, Virginia Real Estate (Nest Realty) over 9 years ago

Do you show homes in any neighborhod?  For example, a single young lady can only afford a home in a neighborhood with known high crime.  What do you do?  Karen

Posted by Karen Kruschka, - "My Experience Isn't Expensive - It's PRICELESS" (RE/MAX Executives) almost 9 years ago

Show her where and how to access crime reports online.  You can also suggest she go to the local police station and talk to someone who works the area.  They will tell you how they see the neighborhood.  They'll tell what's happened recently, and whether they would want their sister, mother, daughter living there.  You don't have to say a thing other than tell them who can answer their question. 

Posted by Monica Hess, Kentucky's Feng Shui Master (Feng Shui This Kentucky) almost 9 years ago

Don't you love that look when you explain the laws do not allow us to comment? Thanks for this blog to remind us again we have our duties to our clients and then we have those duties we must withhold.

Posted by Linda Powers, On the Outer Banks (Resort Realty - Duck) almost 9 years ago


I was showing a client a home about 2 years ago and as we stood on the front porch as I opened the lockbox we overheard the woman on the porch next door. She was talking on a cellphone and asking the person on the other end to please bring her a Happy Meal because he knew she had no money because she shot it all into her arm!

Needless to say we never even went into the home.

Posted by Walter Grewe III, Realtor, SFR, A-REO, Roanoke Homes and Real Estate (Long and Foster Realtors) over 8 years ago

I suggest they do "drivebys" at different hours of the day. Then if they still want to live there after their own investigation, who am I to stop them.

What may be "rough" for some is "home" for someone else. We get the same thing around here with mobile homes. There may be a trailer park within 1000' of a $650,000 house. That's not bad here, that's just SW Virginia.

I do know what your saying though. Hey who knows...maybe the young man needed to be beat over the head with a stick....we don't know what he did to deserve it  :)

just kidding....

Posted by Diana Lyons over 8 years ago

I'm working in Prince William County, esp. the Manassas area. I find that there are a lot of great deals on rental properties in distressed neighborhoods. I like working in those areas because there are deals to be found.

Posted by John Marion (RE/MAX Town & Country) over 8 years ago

Richmond has a crime data website that allows searchers to view recent crimes in the neighborhood.  I direct them to this site, and also warn them to search the sex offender lists as well before writing an offer.

Posted by Ray Garrett, Jr. (ZipRealty) over 8 years ago

Clients do get frustrated at times when I can not give them crime data for areas, or my "opinion" of a specific neighborhood.  Thanks for the post.

Posted by Joey Remondino, Broker, GRI, E-Pro (RE/MAX Preferred Properties) about 8 years ago

Some Saturday nites around here you are likely to hear gunshots.  I still like the neighborhood, but some would find that a little too much.


Posted by Monica Hess, Kentucky's Feng Shui Master (Feng Shui This Kentucky) almost 8 years ago