In a perfect world, every neighborhood would come with low crime, affordable real estate, a thriving community and social scene, great schools, and more. But anyone who has ever taken the roller coaster ride of house hunting knows that this is rarely the case.
Unless you have unlimited funds to be able to pick a neighborhood without looking at the price tag, you’re going to have to get good at neighborhood scouting to find the area that best suits you and your wallet.
Questions to Ask Yourself Before Scouting
- Do you have a family to consider? Children throw a lot more variables into the equation as the desirability for safe streets, good schools, open yards, and family-friendly things to do close by goes way up on the priority list. If you’re single, an active social life, hip restaurants, and entertaining happy hours might be much more enticing.
- Will you have a family to consider in the near future? You might not currently have a family. Or maybe you’re married but don’t have kids yet. But if you’re planning on starting a family within the next five years, your best bet is to start planning for a neighborhood that will suit that future lifestyle.
- How far are you willing to commute? The average U.S. commute to work is 25.5 minutes each way. Are you willing to do that or more?
- What type of home will you be happy with? Are you adamant about a single family home? Happy with renting an apartment? Looking for the luxuries that come with condo living? Are you willing to compromise with a twin home? Knowing what will work for you ahead of time will help narrow down your search.
Start Your Search as Close to Work as Possible
Now that you have a little clearer of an idea of what you want, start narrowing down locations by looking around your workplace first. This is more straightforward if you work in the city and also want to live in the city. Don’t underestimate how much of an impact dense traffic and a long commute will have on your lifestyle. Use a tool like Google Maps to check on what commute times are like during rush hour and incorporate that into how you weigh the benefits of various neighborhoods.
Count the For Sale and Foreclosure Signs
Sure, that “for sale” sign is what got you to this particular neighborhood in the first place. But pay close attention to just how many of those signs you see. Are there multiple for sale signs on the same street, same block, or neighborhood? A house can be for sale or in foreclosure in any neighborhood. But when there are an above average amount of homes for sale or in foreclosure, it’s usually a sign that something’s amiss in that neighborhood.
Even if it is a case of individuals who were down on their luck and not due to the neighborhood, an abundance of homes for sale still has a negative effect. Too many homes for sale in one area diminishes property values, which in turn lowers property taxes, and has a domino effect in changing the neighborhood culture.
Look for Sidewalks
Although sidewalks don’t generally make most people’s lists of necessities when house hunting, they probably should. Good sidewalks are a great indicator that the neighborhood is doing well, and shows that the city is invested in the safety of the community.
Search Out Local Activities and Amenities
Now that you’ve found a town with great sidewalks, now you need something worth walking to. Families with kids will want to walk to parks and libraries. Parents want the ability to enroll their kids into soccer, ballet, karate, and other extracurricular activities. Taking the family dog to a local dog park is always favorable, too.
And you don’t have to have kids for activities to be important. Adults of all ages enjoy gyms, sports and community clubs, beauty salons, bars and an active nightlife. Retired couples might be drawn to a senior centers. Whatever your preference, make sure the community life suits you.
Tour the Schools
Whether you have kids or not, schools are a great way to gauge the neighborhood, especially when it comes to the real estate value. The better the school systems, the more affluent the property values tend to be. And the best part about a good school system is that the real estate values tend to stay stable. But, if you don’t have kids, you don’t have to aim for the best school system in the area if you’re looking to keep your rent or mortgage down a little.
And, of course, if you do have children, then the quality of the schools will be of the utmost importance. So, always make sure to inquire into the local school system, including the sports teams and extracurricular activities.
Use Internet Resources
Being able to find the neighborhood that is right for you is easier than ever thanks to the resources available on the internet. You can check crime statistics, school ratings, and how communities stack up against others in the area, all without ever having to leave the house or pick up the phone.
Online communities and forums are a great place to ask other people who live in the community any questions that you might have to get a feel for what it’s really like. It’s even better than being able to question your potential neighbors because people are able to go into detail and feel much more open than they would in person.
Do More Than a Drive By
Forums are a great resource, but all the online conversations in the world can’t replace the importance of checking out a neighborhood in person. Always keep in mind that pictures can be deceiving and just because a neighborhood seems perfect on paper, doesn’t mean it will be in person.
Those blooming dogwood trees might look beautiful in the photograph taken in front of the house in April but maybe they’re hiding a train track running through the neighborhood. And photos won’t show you the smell that the local factory gives off every time the wind changes direction or the loud noises that come from the baseball field every summer.
Visiting the neighborhood you’re interested in moving to is crucial in determining firsthand what the area is really like. Make to visit during different times of the day throughout various days. You can also research when the community holds town festivals, fairs, and parades and crash the party. It will give you a better idea of what you’re getting yourself into.
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