Police chiefs weren’t the only ones celebrating about recent news that crime was down across the state.

Bay State real estate professionals say the lower crime rates are also good news for business.

“It’s a big plus,” Realtor James W. Haley said of the effect that the lower crime rate has on residential real estate sales.

The state recently released figures showing that crime dropped in five out of seven categories last year. Violent crime was down 3.1 percent from 1999 while property crimes fell 3.9 percent. Only rapes and motor vehicle thefts were up.

Ilona Kuphal – who listed and sold homes in Cambridge for 16 years before becoming manager of DeWolfe Co.’s Back Bay and South End offices several months ago – said the declining crime rate has spurred buyers to search in neighborhoods they never considered before.

It has also boosted home prices in some communities because more and more buyers feel comfortable moving into them, she said.

“It [lower crime rate] opens up the city,” Kuphal said.

In a Massachusetts Association of Realtors survey two years ago, 88 percent of prospective homebuyers rated a low crime rate as very important when deciding where to buy their next home.

Haley, who has been selling homes in the Greater Lowell area for the past six years and was recently named Realtor of the Year by the Northeast Association of Realtors, said homebuyers often consider three factors – schools, public safety and location.

“Generally, public safety is a very important factor,” Haley said.

However, Realtors who work in more suburban areas said buyers aren’t overly concerned about crime when house hunting.

Doug Azarian, president of the Cape Cod & Islands Association of Realtors, says crime isn’t a big concern for homebuyers in communities like Falmouth, Bourne, Sandwich and Mashpee.

In the 15 years he’s been handling real estate sales on the Upper Cape Cod area, only one homebuyer has asked him about crime.

“In general, it [crime] is a minor issue, rather than a major issue, for most real estate buyers and sellers,” said Azarian of Century 21 North Falmouth Realty.

Many of the properties on the Cape are second homes, with owners gone for most of the year, said Azarian. That could be why so few of the buyers Azarian has come into contact with are concerned about crime, he said.

Homebuyers on Cape Cod are usually more concerned about the quality of the school systems than crime, said Henry DiGiacomo, executive director of the Cape Cod & Islands Association of Realtors.

Since there is also a large number of retirees living or moving into the area, many Realtors are asked about elder services and the quality and proximity of hospitals and other health care facilities, DiGiacomo said.

People searching in Lexington and Concord and other west-of-Boston suburbs also do not inquire a lot about crime unless they are relocating from another state, said Judy Moore, a broker with Re/Max Premier Properties in Lexington.

Moore said some of the buyers she’s dealt with use the Internet and scan the crime logs of local newspapers to get a feel for crime rates within a community.

“Once in a while people ask, ‘Is this a safe area?'” said Moore, who is the Greater Boston regional vice president of MAR.

But most of the buyers Moore works with are primarily concerned about the schools and community activities a town has to offer. The public safety factor is usually an “afterthought,” Moore said.

Steering Clear
When Realtors are asked about crimes in particular neighborhoods or streets within a community, they must refer homebuyers to the local police department.

Because of fair housing laws, brokers cannot comment specifically on crime, race or religion within a community because it can be viewed as discriminatory, Realtors said.

“We cannot steer them from one neighborhood to another. It’s against the law,” said Kuphal.

When Kuphal worked in Cambridge, she advised buyers who were concerned about public safety to visit neighborhoods during different times of the day. She also told them to go to the Cambridge Police Department, which had a liaison to help people sort through neighborhood crime information.

Likewise, Haley refers buyers to local police whenever he’s asked about public safety.

About six months ago, prospective homebuyers in Lowell started asking Haley a lot about crime when the local newspaper featured several murder stories on the its front page within a two-month period.

Haley, who lives in Lowell and owns property in the city, said the murders were drug-related, but he really couldn’t provide specifics to homebuyers.

Instead, he advised them to get information from the Lowell Police Department.

“I can’t guarantee that a street [in Lowell] is safe and I can’t guarantee that a street is not safe,” he said.

Overall, crime is down in the city, and Haley credits community policing and the smaller neighborhood precincts that have been created in Lowell over the last few years.

Haley said the police presence in Lowell neighborhoods is a good selling point when he is talking to homebuyers.

“When you look at the city as a whole, the city is doing well crime-wise,” he said. “Crime has been down for the past six years.”

Isabel Barbara-Castro, a buyers’ broker with Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America in Lawrence, said about 1 percent of the homebuyers she deals with ask about crime. Barbara-Castro helps people buy homes in Lawrence, Haverhill, Methuen, Dracut and Lowell.

Most of the people Barbara-Castro assists are Latino renters who live in Lawrence and are eager to become first-time homebuyers. About 95 percent of the buyers NACA assists find homes in Lawrence, she said.

Those homebuyers already know the community and don’t need to ask about high-crime areas, said Barbara-Castro.

“Some of them know more than I do because they live there,” she said.

Barbara-Castro, who helps about 14 families become homeowners each month, said NACA has helped change the landscape of many Lawrence streets.

NACA runs first-time homebuyers classes and helps people get the financing they need to purchase homes. Since NACA encourages homeownership, new or restored owner-occupied homes are replacing boarded-up and vacant properties that were not only eyesores but also magnets for illegal activity.

“When landlords don’t live on a property, they [tenants] can do whatever they want,” including bringing in crime from other communities, she said.

The increased homeownership is leading to lower crime overall, Barbara-Castro said.

Haley said the same is true in Lowell, where many agencies have successful first-time homebuyer programs.

“The philosophy behind it is that if you own a home, you take more pride in it,” he said.

State’s Low Crime Rate Brings Buyers to Cities

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 4 min