Neighborhood Info: How To Research And Choose The Perfect Place For Your Home Search
Victoria Araj6-minute read
March 16, 2021
When you’re in the market to buy a home, there are so many important factors to consider that it's easy to forget the house is only one part of the equation. There’s also “location, location, location – which is everything,” as the saying goes. It’s a cliche, but there’s a lot of truth in it. Finding the right neighborhood is an important part of shopping for a home.
But what makes up a good neighborhood? Check out our guide to evaluating a neighborhood – and making sure it’s the right one for you.
When considering a neighborhood, you might want to look at specific information, including:
- Median age
- Level of diversity
- Socioeconomic makeup
- Number of families living in the area
Depending on what you value in a neighborhood, some factors might be more important to you than others as you start house hunting. Are you a twenty-something looking for a vibrant nightlife, or are you a retiree looking for a more mature crowd to socialize with? Is a diverse population a must for you? Does it matter to you whether your income would put you on the lower end – or higher end – of earners in the neighborhood?
Whatever you value, your real estate agent or REALTOR® should be able to tell you about the neighborhood to help you get a sense of other homeowners in the area.
Most people want to know if they’re moving into a safe neighborhood. There are ways to see the crime rate, but that number is just one component of a much broader overall safety equation.
Crime Rate And Statistics
The FBI releases uniform reports on crime statistics on an annual basis in the fall of each year, and preliminary numbers are available on a semi-annual basis. These reports are useful because they break down the specific type of crime reported.
When it comes to safety, it’s probably best to think in terms of the rate of violent and property crime. Not all criminal citations carry the same level of reason to worry. Looking at the numbers will also give you a good way of getting the facts and help you avoid preconceptions.
Local and state level agencies in your area might also publish data around percentages of specific types of crime, which can help you make judgments for yourself.
Another useful resource for assessing public safety is the National Sex Offender Registry.
Other Safety Considerations
In addition to crime statistics, it’s a good idea to consider other factors that contribute to the relative level of safety in a neighborhood. Here are some questions you can ask yourself when assessing overall safety:
- Are you close to your nearest neighbor, or are you in a more isolated area?
- Is the neighborhood generally occupied and cared for, or are there high levels of blight and abandoned homes?
- How far are you from fire stations and medical facilities?
- Is there a neighborhood association that comes together to look out for everyone?
If safety is a huge priority for you, try researching neighborhoods and cities with high safety ratings.
There are several ways in which the physical location of a neighborhood might impact your desire to live there. Here are some of the main ones to consider.
If you're still deciding where to live, the weather is absolutely going to impact how you zero in on your perfect neighborhood. Try looking at:
- Snow records
- Temperature throughout the year
- Sunlight hours
- Pollen count
If you know that the seasons have a big impact on your mood, you should consider avoiding northern states with long, dark winters. Some places will be worse than others for those with severe seasonal allergies. And if you're someone who can't function in the heat or humidity, make sure you take that into consideration before choosing a neighborhood in the southeast United States.
Accessibility and Transportation
Some areas just provide better accessibility than others. Some of the top factors that contribute to an area’s overall accessibility include:
- Bike lanes
- Rideshare services
Put simply, when it comes to location, you’ll want to consider how difficult it is to get from point A to point B.
A neighborhood’s proximity to major roads can be important in this sense, too. You probably don’t want to drive 20 minutes just to get to the nearest highway. On the other hand, you also probably don’t want to be right next to a busy roadway. The noise factor alone could make your home less valuable in the eyes of future potential buyers.
Distance To Work And Amenities
In some ways, distance to work and amenities is a product of accessibility and transportation.
While most people think of the commute time to work or school, there are a variety of other distances you should take into account when choosing a neighborhood:
- Is there a bodega around the corner, or will you have to drive or ride to a supermarket?
- How far will you be from your primary care doctor or dentist?
- Is there entertainment nearby in the form of restaurants, movie theaters or sports?
Of course, you might pay a premium price to be close to work, amenities or attractions. For some, the extra money might be worth it. Others will try to save a little money by settling for a commute to work, bigger entertainment venues, restaurants and shopping in their area.
Education is important. If you have young kids (or plan to start a family), you’ll want to vet your new neighborhood’s school district to make sure it meets your approval.
Even without kids, you should know about the school district your new home is in. School districting affects your property taxes, and you still have a vote when the district proposes tax changes.
Additionally, houses in better school districts will attract buyers when it’s time to sell.
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The current state of any neighborhood is an obvious consideration, but you should also investigate the possibility of future development. Why? There’s a concept in business that suggests you get more return on investment if you can get in on the ground floor of the next big thing. The same is true of neighborhoods.
If you can, find an area with new construction. This can include:
- Grocery stores
- Transportation options
New construction in these areas might indicate desirability, or even the possibility of rising real estate values.
However, development has its downsides, too. For instance, you might be understandably turned off by the noise, disruption and added traffic that come with major development.
Property Values And Trends
How you feel about your potential home is probably your top concern, but it's also important to take an objective look at how good of an investment your home is. Looking at new construction is a good start, but for deeper insight, try looking at how housing prices have changed in the area over recent years. Consider the following:
- Have prices been rising or falling?
- Are price changes steady or erratic?
- Did the trend change at a certain point in time?
Looking at this data can help you decide whether a particular home is a good investment.
Looking at neighborhood trends and statistics is an important step, but, ultimately, how you feel about a neighborhood is going to have an even bigger impact on your day-to-day life. Try taking a walk, visiting local businesses and meeting your potential neighbors. These in-person experiences can reveal things that data can't.
As you're moving through the community, ask yourself:
- Do you feel comfortable walking in this neighborhood?
- Are people friendly or aloof?
- Do the streets and sidewalks look well taken care of?
- Are multiple residents complaining about the same things?
- Are there any exciting amenities?
Overall, if the place gives you a bad vibe or people make you feel unwelcome, you should take that into consideration along with all your other research.
Which Neighborhood Is Right For You?
Some neighborhood factors are going to mean more to you than others as you start the home buying process.
If you have a growing family, school districts might be more of a focus than access to the nearest movie theater, for example. Whatever you value in a potential neighborhood, it’s a good idea to make yourself a list of priorities.
Are you ready to go looking for houses? You can get your mortgage approval process started here.
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