I would try to locate a local REI club in the area. You will get better insight to the local market, as well as being able to network with the real players there. Best of luck.
As far as area goes, you can call the local police department. They will let you know if an area is good or not by how many calls they get.
We did this on a property we were considering to buy. After we called the police department we didn’t give the property anymore thought.