How to Narrow your Choice of Neighborhood.
Some homebuyers know immediately where they want to live, but if you’re new to a region or just want to explore a variety of communities, it can be time-consuming and complicated to choose the neighborhood where you’ll spend the next decade or so of your life. While it’s great to rely on a real estate agent for information, Fair Housing laws sometimes limit how much your agent can tell you about specific demographics. Agents need to be careful not to suggest you go to one neighborhood or to avoid another because this could be considered steering you to a particular area. On the other hand, agents can answer some of your questions and provide you with third party resources to help you get the knowledge you need to make your choice about where to live.
Home values fluctuate for a variety of reasons and cannot always be predicted, but an agent can share with you the price history of homes in different areas so you can see how well they held up during the housing crisis. The trajectory of prices can help you decide how much to offer once you find a home to buy.
Location – commute, shops, recreation
"Location, location" is the mantra for real estate, with homes in the "best" locations consistently holding their value or becoming more valuable. But the "best" location means different things to different people. Think about your personal priorities such as your commute, proximity to shops and services and to entertainment or recreational amenities. For instance, a family of swimmers will place a higher priority on living near an indoor swimming pool for year-round activity.
Transportation and walkability
"Walkability" has become a desirable feature for many homebuyers today. The website WalkScore.com can provide you with a score based on the ability to walk to shops, cafes and other amenities from a particular address. Transportation options are also something to consider. Even if you plan to drive most places, the option of using public transportation also helps home values.
While every family has a different idea of what a "good" school is, the website GreatSchools.org provides ratings and parent reviews of schools. Even if you don’t have school age children, living within a desirable school district can improve your home value.
Another important element of choosing a neighborhood is the level of safety in the area. A real estate agent can’t tell you whether a neighborhood is "good" or "bad", but you can ask for police reports when evaluating communities.
Community: planned or unplanned?
Many communities have homeowner associations that establish rules and require homeowners to pay dues to cover things like trash pick-up and maintenance in common areas. Some homeowners prefer to avoid homeowner associations because they don’t want to be bound by rules such as whether they can park a boat or an RV in their driveway or have a home business. Other buyers like the fact that community standards are upheld and enjoy the amenities that are managed by a homeowner association such as a swimming pool or walking trails. Even if you decide to live in a community with a homeowner association, you should compare the fees and what’s included for the money when you begin seriously shopping for homes.
While real estate agents can’t tell you the ethnic or religious background or education levels or median income in a neighborhood, there are numerous third party sites such as Zillow and Trulia and local government sites that provide that information. While it may not matter to you, some people like to live in an area in which their neighbors share a similar background.
Home and neighborhood styles
You may instinctively like one community more than another but not always recognize immediately why. Sometimes it can be the style of homes, the landscaping of the properties or even the mix of home types. Think about whether you prefer to live some place with only single family homes on larger lots or if you like homes that are close together. Some communities have numerous cul-de-sacs and curving streets to make it easier for kids to play outside; others have a grid pattern with narrow streets and sidewalks to encourage neighbors to see more of each other.
Visiting day and night
Once you’ve gone through this list and determined which aspects of a neighborhood are most important to you, it’s time to begin exploring. It’s best to visit a neighborhood you like at least three or four times: during the daytime on a weekday and over the weekend and at night. You can get a feel for the traffic patterns, rhythms of the neighborhood and whether there are people out and about when you’re home. You can also see whether the community has lots of children, singles, older people or a mix of ages and family sizes.
Thinking through your priorities and comparing them with a homebuying partner can make it easier to narrow first your neighborhood and then your choice of a home.