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Home Buyers: How’s Your Future ‘Hood?

View of a San Francisco neighborhood.

Photo by pbo31.

If you’re on the road to buying a home, life is about to get busier. You’ll need to choose a Realtor, tour homes, get mortgage pre-approval, and make offers. With all that to keep track of, don’t miss one of the most important tasks on a new home buyer’s checklist: researching your future neighborhood.

Of course, you may have started your house hunt with a particular zip code in mind. But if you have been searching for the perfect home and have been flexible on location, listen up. Before you make an offer on any one particular house, you want to spend some time in its neighborhood and research the area’s crime, schools, and other local information. Here’s how:

Do a Drive By

One of the best ways to learn about a neighborhood is to drive through the area both during the day and at night. On your daytime drive, check out the convenience of the neighborhood. Ask yourself:

  • How far are the nearest grocery store, library, post office, and hospital?
  • Are shopping malls, schools, and fitness centers nearby?
  • Do people take care of their houses and yards?
  • Are there eyesores like graffiti or trash lying around?

If you’re in a large city, it’s also a good idea to drive to and from the house during rush hour, checking the flow of traffic.

At night, drive through the area and see if you notice a lot of police cars or anything that seems suspicious enough to make you feel uncomfortable. If you feel unsafe or uncomfortable being in the area at night, that home may not be right for you.

Play Reporter

Another good way to get information is to talk to your potential neighbors. Introduce yourself, tell them you are considering purchasing the property next door and ask if they could provide you with any additional insight into the area.

People love to share their opinions, both good and bad, so you may find the potential neighbors surprisingly candid. You may learn that the house across the street routinely throws loud parties past midnight. Conversely, you may find out something pleasant, such as the day care down the road is one of the best in town.

If you have children, you may want to stop by a local school and talk to them about future enrollments and get a sense for the school’s character. You can also research schools online; simply Google school ratings.

Do Your Homework

Your Realtor can be an important tool for finding out statistical information about a particular neighborhood. Most Realtors specialize in one specific area, so he or she will be able to provide details about local school districts, hospitals, and other public buildings. She may be able to provide you with recent crime statistics as well.

If you are not working with a Realtor, you need to do some of the neighborhood research yourself. Start by going to the official website of the city or county that you are considering. (Type in the name of the city, such as “San Diego” and “.gov” into a search engine to find the official website.)

This is where you can find crime statistics and the addresses and phone numbers of local offices such as police departments, post offices, public libraries and hospitals. You can also find information on recreation in the area such as public parks and gyms. Real estate websites such as Trulia.com and Redfin.com can also provide neighborhood information and statistics, yet they are not always as up-to-date as city or county websites.

Once you’ve gathered neighborhood information, the final step is to analyze it. Compare the crime statistics of the new area with those of your current neighborhood. Then, sit down and discuss the information with your spouse or partner. Spend a good week gathering neighborhood information before you submit an offer. That way, once you do, you’ll be sure that you are comfortable in your new community.

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About Sarah Davis

Sarah Davis is a real estate broker in San Diego, Calif. She enjoys helping both buyers and sellers and was voted one of the top 10 best real estate agents in San Diego in 2013 by Union Tribune readers. In her spare time she talks about real estate on a local radio show and manages her website RealtorSD.com.

Comments

  1. I absolutely agree that it’s important do thoroughly do research on the area in which you’re considering buying.

    I have heard several people over the years tell me that they liked their actual house, but didn’t like the neighborhood or city as much as they thought they would – due to things they could have observed had they done proper research ahead of time.

    Examples:

    1. One person I knew, who moved into the area (Chicago) for a job, came from an area with a much lower cost of living. Shocked at the housing prices, he picked a suburb where he and his wife could buy a newer, larger home with a yard that was close to what he spent living elsewhere. Well, he soon came to realize that there was reason those homes were cheaper: the area was surrounded by higher crime communities.

    2. Another couple I know bought a very nice home in a good community, but the local school district boundaries – for whatever reason – do not include their subdivision, which is on the border of the city. Thus, their neighborhood feeds into a school district with lower test scores. That helps explain why their home was priced well compared to others in the same city.

    Bottom line: it pays to spend time on due dilligence. This is where you will be living, and where a portion of your money will be tied up. If someone can research a car, a place to vacation, or a new cell phone – they should most certainly research where they will be living.

  2. A great way to learn about neighborhoods is on NabeWise.com It has photos, videos, reviews by locals, etc. You can really narrow it down before you spend hours driving around.