How to Choose the Right Neighborhood
Nothing is more important than your neighborhood. Professionals explain why the neighborhood you choose is more important than the home you buy.
When you buy a home you're not just buying a house. You're buying a piece of property, a location - a part of a neighborhood. Many real estate professionals agree that long before you decide what kind of house you want to live in you have to first decide the type of neighborhood you want that house to be in.
How to Determine the Type of Neighborhood That's Right for You
Ian Halpin, Broker Associate at Jameson Sotheby’s International Realty, explained that neighborhood selection comes down to two main factors: personal lifestyle and price point.
Price Point Considerations
Price point is the less flexible factor. After speaking with a lender you should know exactly what you can and can't afford. Sandy Segovia, a Realtor® at Keller Williams Realty, says that most first time buyers have to settle for a tradeoff between the size of the home and the location. The nicer the neighborhood, the higher the price per square foot is going to be.
Before you decide which neighborhoods you want to look in figure out the minimum amount of space your really need in a new home - the square footage, the number of rooms, the lot size. If you can't afford a home that meets your minimum requirements you'll either have to reevaluate your needs or look in another neighborhood.
Personal Lifestyle Considerations
Buyers often get wrapped up in the homes and forget that it's the neighborhood that really needs to fit their lifestyle.
Gas is expensive these days and no one enjoys sitting in traffic when they could be relaxing at home. If commute to and from certain points and traffic are an important issues Marie Story Broker Associate at Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate suggests that buyers "visit the house/neighborhood you are planning to buy in at different times of the day and on different days of the week".
Is public transportation an issue?
How far is the neighborhood from your work, shopping, church, etc.?
The schools are one of the biggest selling points of a neighborhood. Naturally, anyone with kids cares about the quality of their children's education. "When there are children, I want to be sure the family is in a school district that facilitates the child's needs," says Stephen O'Hara, broker at RE/MAX Select One in Orange County, CA. " Not all schools are the same. Some have an edge towards special needs, or a more 'College bound' academic curriculum. Some have a heavier focus on arts while others are on sports. These are critical areas to many buyers."
Is there a certain school district they are interested in?
What kind of options are in a neighborhoods district - preschools, private schools, charter schools, high schools, community colleges, etc.?
Does your child have specific needs or interests that will affect the school your choose?
Do they prefer a quiet environment?
Do they want a family oriented neighborhood or a more urban area?
Do you prefer an area with a lot of greenery, mature trees and parks?
Do you like neighborhoods that are more established with older homes or an up-coming neighborhood with modern, new construction?
If appreciation is important to you then your choice of neighborhood is that much more important. Location, i.e. neighborhood, is one of the biggest factors that affect appreciation.
Is it in an established neighborhood or a new community?
Has the area had a history of high demand?
Is there improvement going on in the area - both residential and commercial?
Is there a low crime rate?
Are you planning on expanding your family in the near future?
Are there other kids in the neighborhood around your child's age?
Are there family friendly amenities nearby?
Resources to Help You Find the Ideal Neighborhood
Real Estate Agents
A few Realtors® like Don Reedy of Real Living Lifestyles Real Estate and Stephanie Crawford of Zeitlin & CO., Realtors, point out that there are limitations to what agents are able to discuss about neighborhoods because they don't want to violate Fair Housing rules and regulations.
What an agent can do is get a good understanding of your lifestyle and have a detailed discussion about the type of neighborhood you would like to live in. From there they can use their market knowledge to narrow your home search to several areas they match your lifestyle, budget and needs best.
Ms. Crawford suggests that buyers use up-to-date online tools "like Mapping America, and CrimeMapping to help the buyer make a more-informed decision."
It's also a good idea to use a resource like Google Maps to map the distance between a neighborhood and your work, grocery stores, your church, etc.
Public Records and Information
The federal government just released the 2010 Census data which can provide a great deal of current and historical demographic data on most cities in the country. States will also have public records and databases with important information such as sex offender registries which allow to search by address or zip code.
Another thing to consider is the zoning of a neighborhood as this will determine what type of structures can be built in the surrounding area. Your local city or country has zoning information on record.
Create a Neighborhood Profile
Once you find a neighborhood that seems to meet your criteria create a neighborhood profile. The profile will outline the information above and help you compare neighborhoods.
The neighborhood profile should list pros and cons, community history, demographics, housing costs, school and employment information as well as characteristics of homes in the neighborhood. It's also a good idea to talk to a few of the homeowners in the neighborhood to get an honest opinion from a credible source without an agenda says O'Hara.
Once you've carefully considered your neighborhood wants and needs you can now narrow your search down to two or three neighborhoods and start searching for homes.