There are dozens of details to consider when looking for a new home. Everyone has their ideal, whether it's a big corner lot or marble on the kitchen counters. As exciting as such features might be, finding the right neighborhood can make the difference between a good deal and a great deal. Here are ten suggestions to help you clarify what you're looking for and find a location that is right for you.
1) Ask Around
Everyone has opinions - and they're usually eager to share. Whether you're moving to a new city or moving around a familiar one, you can get useful information by asking around. Rapid development in many urban areas makes it difficult to keep track of neighborhood reputations. People who live there will always have up to date information.
2) It's All Relative
Will you be living in the same metropolitan area as members of your or your spouse's extended family? You might want to narrow your search to neighborhoods convenient to theirs. If you are counting on them for babysitting duties or feeding the dog when you're on vacation, choosing the right neighborhood could save you a lot in kennel fees.
3) Traffic Matters
Traffic is a major factor in modern life. Unpredictable traffic patterns can make central locations a nightmare while allowing suburban locations easy access to the city's shopping and attractions. Researching neighborhoods based on commuting time and convenience to public transportation can help you spend time enjoying your new home instead of sitting in traffic.
4) Define Your Ideal Deal
Every neighborhood has its pros and cons. The important thing is defining what you want. Up and coming neighborhoods may offer better deals now with high resale value later, but you'll probably have a lot of local construction before that happens. Reliable, established neighborhoods with good reputations will cost more to buy in, and resale value may not go up as quickly, but local schools may be better than neighborhoods under redevelopment. If you define the short and long term priorities for your home, you'll know when you've found a deal that's good for you.
5) Think of the Children
Children are a major factor in choosing a neighborhood. A new family with young kids will consider parks, convenient daycare, and local grade schools. A family with teenagers will be more interested in high schools. Many families have both. Realtors advertise 'great schools' almost everywhere, but it's important to focus your search on the schools you actually need.
Even if you're not planning on having kids or your children are already out of school, you should still consider these factors. Is there extra morning traffic because of school buses? Are local property taxes higher because of those great schools? You may not be interested in paying for local perks you don't need.
6) No Dogs Allowed?
If you're a pet owner, remember to check out the local dog park, and look into area pet ordnances. When driving through a prospective neighborhood, see if residents are respecting the rules - local dogs running loose in the neighborhood can be a nuisance for everyone.
7) Crime Doesn't Pay
With so many metropolitan areas under redevelopment, long-standing reputations for safe and unsafe neighborhoods are hard to trust. Local crime statistics are usually available online, often narrowed to areas of only a few blocks. Look for neighborhood watch programs and other civic groups that keep an area safe.
8) Associating With Your New Neighbors
Neighborhood associations can be a great asset or a great annoyance, depending on whether you share their priorities. Make sure you know whether such an organization exists, what their membership fees are, and what local rules they enforce before you decide whether to buy in a particular area.
9) Surf the Net
Many of the above issues can be researched on the internet. Focus your research on websites run by civic and educational groups rather than commercial sites - you want information, not advertising. Many neighborhood associations maintain their own sites, as well.
10) Seeing is Believing
When you've narrowed your search down to a few neighborhoods, plan some time to really check them out in person. Schedule times to drive and walk around the area on weekdays and weekends, and make a point of stopping through at different times of day. Pay a couple of late night visits to see how things look and sound. If you really want to try a neighborhood on for size, get up extra early and try your morning commute from there. With a little research, there won't be any unwanted surprises in your new neighborhood.