8 Neighborhood Amenities to Look For, Even if You Don't Use Them
These perks near your future house may not be a must for you, but they could pay off in the long run.
Consider HOA perks, the proximity to popular retail stores and more when purchasing your next home.(Getty Images)
There’s a lot to consider when you’re searching for your next home, including whether it has the right number of bedrooms, a layout conducive to your needs and is move-in ready or ripe for all the renovations you’ve been planning.
But what matters even more is what’s just beyond the property line.
“You can always change the home, but you can’t change the neighborhood,” says Melissa Steele, a Realtor with Big Block Realty Inc. in San Diego and co-founder and president of the agent team Steele San Diego Homes. What matters most to many homebuyers, she says, is “what part of town they’re in, the safety factors, how it makes them feel – and then the house comes second.”
The area you purchase in is not only an important factor in your ability to enjoy your home, but also in your ability to see the value of your property grow over time. Whether your home is in the area’s most desirable neighborhood or in one positioned to improve in the next few years, it’s important to keep an eye on the aspects of the area that signal you’ll have interested buyers when you decide to sell down the line.
Even if you aren’t big on recreation centers or prefer delivery pizza to trying out the hottest new restaurant, buying a home in a neighborhood offering those features can mean a bigger payout.
Here are eight neighborhood amenities to look for while house hunting, even if you don’t intend to use them.
Grocery store. Access to fresh food is a must to ensure a neighborhood can thrive, so it’s a good idea to inquire about where the nearest grocery store is – and if it’s your preferred shop. A Whole Foods can be a great option, but if you prefer the prices at Trader Joe’s, close proximity to the former might not be that desirable.
“We’ve had a few clients make the comment that if you want to know what neighborhood you’re moving into, check out the food store,” Steele says.
Proximity to offices. One thing people want easy access to: work. Even if you’re planning to drive to your office in the next town or prefer to live farther from your office, many professionals are seeking a home close to their company so they can combine work and play more seamlessly.
Turan Duda, founding principal of Duda|Paine Architects, based in Durham, North Carolina, says the preference for proximity between home and work is changing the way people approach suburban office parks, which traditionally are far from neighborhoods and retail.
“Real estate owners in suburban parks are now getting smart, and they’re now wanting to park residential next to [the office parks]. They’re now wanting to create those same creative environments that you see downtown. They’re competing,” Duda says.
HOA perks. If you’re considering a neighborhood with a homeowners association or you’re planning to buy in a condo community, consider the amenities attached to those dues you’ll be paying. Some HOAs include access to a community clubhouse, pool or golf course, while others simply seek to cover your trash pickup and landscaping.
In San Diego, Steele says it’s reasonable to expect dues ranging from $200 to $500 per month, and for those costs you should consider the communities that offer more and newer perks, even if you don’t plan on socializing. “What’s killer is when you’re paying that amount and there’s nothing offered,” Steele says. Amenities are becoming expected, and living in a community that doesn’t offer much won’t help to boost your home value as quickly as other places providing trendy extras.
Fitness options. The most desired HOA or condo association perk? A top-notch gym or fitness area, Steele says. Even if you’re not buying into an HOA and have no plans to exercise in public, buying a house that's a stone’s throw from a state-of-the-art gym can be a big draw for many buyers when you decide to sell.
Earlier this month, real estate information company Zillow released a list of the most viewed neighborhoods in the U.S. in the first three months of 2018. The No. 1 neighborhood on the list, The Oaks in Calabasas, California, has a recreation center, including a gym, tennis and basketball courts and an Olympic-size swimming pool, all exclusive to residents.
Schools and parks? Maybe. Being in a neighborhood with the right schools for your children is a must for many and can serve as a great incentive if the next buyers of your house have school-age children. But what if you don’t have kids or plan to send them to private school elsewhere? The benefits of living in a neighborhood with a school or park nearby may or may not be the best option.
“Some clients really want to be close to them, others don’t. It’s more of a polarizing [amenity],” Steele says.
For your return on investment, living next door to the state’s best high school or community park will likely help your home’s value, but you also need to consider if morning and afternoon traffic, people taking up street parking in front of your house or noise from a football game will affect your quality of life.
Access to shops. Beyond food options, proximity to retail stores can be a sign of future growth for a neighborhood. Especially when you see recognizable brand names, you know larger companies have considered the area and expect success, Duda says.
He notes that Urban Outfitters is preparing to open a store within The Dillon, a mixed-use development of residences, retail and office space in Raleigh, North Carolina, that's designed by his firm. It's a brand you’d previously expect to see almost exclusively in shopping malls, but Duda says retailers are seeing downtown, work-and-play neighborhoods as the best possible investment for them, and for residents “it’s adding another level of richness to that experience.”
Similarly, the Laurelhurst area of Seattle, which ranks No. 10 on the Zillow neighborhood list, derives much of its appeal from the residential setting, with easy, walkable access to local shops as well as restaurants in the nearby University Village neighborhood.
Travel access. Even with all these walkable must-haves, you and any future homebuyer will want to leave town at some point. Even if you fit the work-and-play mold above perfectly, consider that easy options for moving in and out of the area are still important for many homeowners.
“There’s some really nice communities in San Diego, but it takes about 20 to 30 minutes just to get to the freeway, and so it’s a big deterrent for people,” Steele says. “They’re willing to spend a good amount, but they would be willing to take a smaller house in a less desirable area to be able to have more convenience.”
Identity. This one’s not so much a tangible amenity but an important factor that’s guiding much of new property development these days. Builders have caught on to the need for all the amenities above and are working more and more to fit them into a single neighborhood.
“The sense of authenticity is something that’s a big driver in how we establish character for these places,” Duda says.
You may travel a lot for work or you may like coming home at night and staying in, so the neighborhood’s ambience may not be a big deal. But if you can buy in a neighborhood that has a unique identity or is starting to build one, you’ll likely see it reflected in the sale price for your house in a few years.