And for all those items a local Realtor will be of great help, also to find you the right property for YOU, i.e. right price range, right size, right type etc. and then assist you will all else, like comparing your properties of interest to others on the market and those that have recently sold, discuss your offer with you in detail, also get you pre-approved by a reputable lender, so you are not buying or looking at homes beyond your financial capability to get the loan from a lender, negotiating with the selling side and through inspection to the successful closing.
What the Realtors cannot do by law, is recommend one neighborhood over another, as this could and would be considered "Steering" and that is illegal.
Do not do this on your own. But check out information about crime statistics and school reports on the internet, visit the local police dept., drive through the areas of interest at different times of day and week,
and once you narrowed it down to a few properties, talk to the neighbors and see what they like about their neighborhood....
I hope this helps...
Good Luck a happy 2012
Edith YourRealtor4Life~! and your Chicago and Northern Illinois Expert
Working always in the very BEST interest of her clients, buyers, sellers and investors alike....
Edith Always goes the X-tra Mile with a Smile for her clients!
Referrals of your friends, family and acquaintances are always highly appreciated