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.
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.