There are on-line tools available that can help a prospective buyer evaluate a neighborhood. These include school websites, police departments, community websites, just to name a few.
I advise my buyer clients to take it a little further than the research they can do on-line. If they need to commute, I advise them to show up at the forecasted time and do the commute. If they need to be at the office by 8:30 am and think the new neighborhood will allow a 30 minute commute, I suggest they get here early one morning and simulate the drive. This helps them to determine if they are being realistic--both about the commute and the house! That evening reverse the commute...sometimes start times are staggered more than end-times and a commute that is fine in the morning can be awful in the afternoon.
If they do, or do not, want a lot of children in the neighborhood I suggest they spend some time around school dismissal time. School bus drop offs are a great indicator of how many kids live in the neighborhood.
There is no substitute for personal observation. Even if you find the house in the middle of a weekday afternoon, make sure to recommend that they see the neighborhood on a weekend. During the week when adults are working and children are in school it is really difficult to gage anything at all about the people who live there. For someone who wants shelter only, this may not be important, but I find that my clients often hope to forge neighborhood connections. Dropping by offers them an opportunity to find out how friendly the neighborhood is going to be. It can also be a great opportunity to talk to the neighbors and get more information than you will be able to provide them on a listing sheet.
I realize that any of these things, particularly the discovery of a bad commute, could kill a deal. But at the end of the day, I am committed to helping my clients find the house that BEST suits them!