Location, location, location. It’s undoubtedly the No.1 factor that home buyers consider when looking to buy a house in Florida. But while proximity to good schools and shops is important, you might also want to look into the local crime rate.
In Florida, the total crime index varies dramatically from county to county. Some of the most sought-after areas in Florida also tend to be home to higher crime rates.
According to data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the top 10 counties with the highest total crime indexes are Miami Dade, Broward, Orange, Palm Beach, Duval, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Brevard, Volusia and Polk. The index takes into account the volume of both violent and property crimes.
Property crime makes up the largest proportion of all crime in Florida – about 86 percent. This includes burglary (14.5 percent), larceny/theft (64.4 percent), and motor vehicle theft (7 percent).
These figures are one of the reasons why home insurance rates also vary from county to county. However, according to insurance agent Justin Zemaitis of HoneyQuote.com, there are steps that homeowners in crime-prone areas can take to safeguard their homes and lower their home insurance premiums.
“One of the best ways to protect your home from property crime is to invest in a security system, such as a burglar alarm,” he says. “These systems help you by not only sounding an alarm when there’s an intruder and notifying the authorities, but also by acting as a deterrent. Many systems come with window stickers and yard signs that scare away anyone thinking of committing a crime.”
A security system might sound expensive, but it oftentimes pays for itself. Zemaitis says some home insurers will offer a 20 percent discount in premium.
But that’s not the only way to protect yourself. Zemaitis says there are countless tips and tricks that homeowners in Florida use to scare away burglars.
“Make sure you establish safety habits, such as ensuring all doors and windows are locked before leaving the house. You should also avoid announcing your vacation plans online or in public places,” he says.
“If you do go on vacation, make sure your home looks occupied. Leave your blinds opened in their usual positions and make sure your mail isn’t piling up.”
While property crime happens everywhere, the good news is that it's actually decreasing in Florida.
According to data from the FDLE, Florida has had a significant decrease in both the number and rate of reported property crime. In the last 20 years, the number of offenses dropped 42.9 percent and the rate dropped 59 percent. The top 10 safest counties in Florida are Calhoun, Liberty, Lafayette, Union, Glades, Gilchrist, Gulf, Dixie, Franklin and Holmes.
Zemaitis says no matter where the trend is heading, homeowners in Florida should always be prepared with adequate insurance and proper security.