What factors should you consider when moving to a new neighborhood? Honestly, only you can decide what is truly important to you.
First, take a realistic look at your home-buying budget, needs, preferences, and habits, and whether they are likely to change – for example, are you planning to have children soon, or are you approaching the empty nest? Once you decide, then consider these aspects of a neighborhood.
- Commuting – It can be easy to underestimate the regular commute time. Make a rush-hour dry run, and scout out the weekend traffic as well. The money you save by living closer to your job can make it possible to afford a somewhat higher mortgage payment.
- Neighbors – Walk through the neighborhood and chat up any neighbors that have time to talk. Stop at the local grocery store, convenience store, and coffee shop. By talking to locals, you will get an excellent feel for the neighborhood culture and demographics.
- Upkeep – Notice how well other houses are kept. Do some of them appear to be in disrepair? Are they too pristine for your liking? A mismatch in either direction disrupts harmony.
- Growth/Zoning Issues – Check with county/city planning offices for potential road construction, zoning, or growth issues that may change the nature of the neighborhood or potentially lower property values. These issues should be disclosed by a seller, but there is no guarantee of this – or that the seller even knows about them.
- Schools – Do initial research online, and then visit the schools to look over your options. It is important that schools match your educational goals. Even if you do not have kids, homes near better school districts tend to maintain their value compared to those in poor-performing districts.
- Sounds/Smells – Is the property near train tracks or an airport? Do air currents sometimes bring aromas from landfills, farms, or industrial concerns? Are any nearby houses unusually loud?
- Foreclosures/Rentals – A high number of foreclosures or an unusual number of rentals mixed with single-family homes suggests financial instability in the neighborhood, and the likelihood of decreasing property values.
- Property Appreciation and Taxes –Historical information on property values and property taxes should be available from the local Assessor's or Recorder's office. Aside from property taxes, consider other sources like sales taxes, school levies, community improvement taxes, and state taxes.
- Urban/Rural – If you prefer an urban lifestyle where you can walk most places, can you handle a more rural area with fewer nearby amenities? Conversely, if you prefer open spaces, would an urban or suburban neighborhood have enough parks or green space to satisfy your needs? Does the daily pace of life there match yours?
- Weather Considerations – Is the area prone to flooding? Does it get much snow or ice, and how well equipped is the area to handle it – are there hills that would make ice impossible to navigate? Does it have a basement or tornado shelter?
- Hospital/Medical Facilities – Are there adequate facilities nearby, and can they handle any special medical needs you may have?
- Crime Rate – Crime rate statistics for most neighborhoods are available online. Do not make assumptions based on appearance.
- Places of Worship – One of the greatest senses of community comes from our places of worship. Investigate nearby options, sit in on a service, and meet the members and leaders.
Take all of these factors into consideration – and then experience them first-hand. Spend some time in the neighborhood before you buy. Investigate at different times of day and different days, with at least one weekend. With some research, you can find a neighborhood that fits in perfectly with your needs – and that you will fit into perfectly as well.