What makes a great neighborhood for one person might not mean the same thing to another. For young parents, good schools are often a make or break deal. Seniors might look for a neighborhood with good public transportation to help them get around if they’ve given up driving, and will probably search for good access to senior services. Young professionals might want a lot of outdoor spaces and social life, while others want a place where they can bike and walk around easily. Some people refuse to live anywhere without a local Trader Joe’s, while other people won’t consider anything without water access. The criteria for a good neighborhood is as unique as you are, but there are four factors that can help you make your choice.
- Neighborhoods are collections of people who own property in a given area. You want to buy in an area where there are other homeowners, not a bunch of absentees and their renters or vacant houses up and down the block. Yes, the place can be a great deal, with features that you can’t otherwise afford, but if it’s in an area with a lot of rentals, short sales, and foreclosures, US News advises you to think again.
- Forbes says that a great deal on a house is not so great if it’s not a good match for your lifestyle. You can get that big house in the new suburbs, but if you love the nightlife and enjoy popping down the block to your favorite brunch spot, you’re going to feel as if you’re in Siberia. Likewise if you have active young kids, you’re going to want room for running, playing, and the infamous exhortation of all parents: “Turn that thing off and go outside!”
- Crime matters. Check out the area’s crime stats – Trulia has a good tool for that – and see what’s going on. Is there a high level of property crime like burglaries, or violent crimes like assault? Are there a lot of arrests for drugs? Are there arrests for drunk, disorderly, or public nuisance? Are there “hotspots” nearby that seem to have more than their fair share of trouble? All of these are things that can affect your personal safety and your finances by way of your insurance payment.
- Is there a HOA or other association, and what are they like? Get the straight dope on this, as a crooked or ineffective board can be a real hindrance to your happiness in your new home. Some associations can even tank your purchase by refusing to approve the transfer. Get the gossip, not the brochure, on this one.
Remember: buying a home is a commitment, and you have to get your boots on the ground. It’s not like Zappos.com, where you can just stick a label on it and send it back for a refund. Don’t be afraid to get out there and see what the neighborhood is really like, and rule it out of you don’t think it’s for you. Likewise, you might be happier with a little less house in a neighborhood that’s a better fit for what you want to do.