How To Research And Choose The Right Neighborhood
Carey Chesney4-minute read
December 08, 2021
So you’re thinking about buying a home. Exciting times! It’s fun to envision what style of house you want, how big you want it to be, what your “must haves” and “nice to haves” are and so on. You’ve likely been talking to a real estate agent about how many bathrooms and bedrooms you need, your target total square footage and a multitude of other factors that will help them search for your next home.
But beyond the house stats lies an equally, if not more, important factor: The neighborhood your new abode is nestled in. Comprehensive neighborhood research is critical to a home search that ends well. After all, finding your dream home doesn't amount to a whole lot if its location is more of a nightmare.
Follow along for tips on how to choose the right neighborhood for your home search.
Factors To Consider When Choosing A Neighborhood
Each prospective home buyer should always come up with a list of factors that mean the most to them, but here are a few common ones to get you started:
Property Values, Taxes And Insurance
Monetary considerations vary greatly by location. For example, even homes only a block from each other can have very different tax bills each year, so be sure to do property-specific research (or have your agent do it) before you buy.
Looking for a peaceful, serene locale? Try to avoid the noisy neighborhoods, often situated near city centers or residential areas next to airports. This can go both ways though. If you like to have friends over for the occasional amateur rock concert, you may not want to pick a home in a quiet neighborhood, or one with an HOA that has rules against being too noisy.
HOAs work for some homeowners but are not for everyone. If you don't mind paying a little extra each month to have things like lawn care and snow removal taken care of for you, an HOA may be a good fit. If you don't like being told what to do with your home, not so much.
People want to feel safe in their homes, so neighborhood research about crime rates can help ensure you land in a place where you feel your safety won't be compromised. Keep in mind that when looking at crime rates for a specific area, it can be helpful to look at the local rates compared to overall U.S. crime rates. This helps keep the numbers in context.
If you have school-aged kids, it’s pretty obvious why choosing a neighborhood with good schools would matter to you. However, public schools may matter to you regardless, as they can directly affect home values and the size of the pool of buyers if you decide to sell down the line. After all, just because you may not care personally about the schools, the next people to buy your home might.
Proximity To Town Center
Closeness to shopping centers, restaurants, grocery stores and other amenities might influence your location preference as you work on your neighborhood research. This is all about convenience. Is the home close to a town center, with lots of restaurants and convenience stores? Or will you have to drive at least 15 minutes to reach any semblance of civilization? For some, neighborhood walkability is an absolute necessity, while others don’t mind driving a bit. It’s all about what works best for you.
If you rely on public transportation, you may want a place that’s closer to the bus stop or train station. If you drive to work every day, you should consider an area’s proximity to your job or how easy it would be to get to the expressway from your house.
You should also take a look at how close the nearest hospital is, as well as other necessities such as doctors’ offices, veterinarians and auto repair shops.
How To Research A Neighborhood Before You Move In
One of the most important parts of good neighborhood research is not outsourcing all of it. Only you know what you really want, so do the work firsthand before moving into a new house. This is not the time to delegate.
- Observe the neighborhood. Sometimes the best research tools you have at your disposal are your own two feet. When you’re house hunting, don’t just tour the home. Walk down the street and get a feel for the neighborhood. If you happen to catch any of the neighbors outside, ask them how they like living in the area. They’ll be your best resource on what life is like there. They might even have some intel on the property you’re considering – like why it’s on the market – that you otherwise wouldn’t find out.
- Check out local online communities. Scour the web for information on your prospective neighborhood. Search out the informal online groups where their chatter can provide valuable insights into your neighborhood research.
- Use online tools. An online resource that pulls together all this information in an easy-to-search tool, like our home search tool, will be your best friend. With the search tool, you can search for neighborhood information by address and not only learn about the features of the home itself but about the neighborhood and town it’s in. You can see the ratings of all the nearby schools, find out what types of families live in the area and get a list of popular nearby places. Another online tool that will be your friend during your home search is Google Maps. You can use this to find out what amenities, restaurants and stores are in the area and see how long of a walk or drive it is to reach those places. You can also route your commute and see what your drive to work would look like.
- Ask your real estate agent. Your real estate agent or REALTOR® is basically a neighborhood expert and should be well-versed in the local market and any amenities that are important to you. If you have a few neighborhoods or gated communities in mind, it may be beneficial to choose an agent that has established experience working with homes in those areas as they’ll be more likely to have the kind of in-depth knowledge about the neighborhoods that you desire.
The Bottom Line
If home is where the heart is, make sure your heart is in the right place. The physical aspects of the home are critical, of course. But the location might be the difference between happily ever after and quickly looking to move again. Get started on your neighborhood research and begin the home buying process with a qualified agent today.