What do you want to know about a neighborhood before you sign a sales contract or apartment lease? Lots of things, probably - but safety and schools top the list if you're like most people.
You'll need to do your own research. The federal Fair Housing Act prevents real estate agents from giving you information about school quality or other factors that boil down to characterizing a neighborhood.
"Realtors refer anyone who is interested in what goes on in the schools to the Board of Education," said Debbie Hager, director of communications for the Maryland Association of Realtors. "The Realtor really needs to remain totally impartial."
Start your quest on the Internet. To track down public school test scores, go to the state's mdreportcard.org site. You can compare schools with other schools, and you can also look at the Adequate Yearly Progress reports.
For crime information:
Anne Arundel County lets you look up crime stats at http:--aacoprod.aacounty.org/MyAnneArundel.
The Baltimore City Police Department has an interactive map at http:--maps.baltimorepolice .org/bpdmaps/police.htm.
The Baltimore County Police Department keeps statistics and a map at baltimorecountymd.gov/Agencies/police/crime.
The Carroll County Sheriff's Office suggests a call to the office's public information officer, 410-386-2759. Similarly, the Harford County Sheriff's Office suggests calling its crime analysis unit, 410-836-5402.
The Howard County Police Department has reports about neighborhood crime in 2006 at co.ho.md.us/Police/pd_crime stats.htm.
That's just the beginning, of course. Visit. Talk to neighbors, teachers, parents. There's no substitute for personal experience.
Find Jamie's blog at baltimoresun.com/realestatewonk