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.
Determine your deal-breakers.
It’s time to begin house hunting, and you’re all about that “location, location, location” mantra everyone mentions when it comes to real estate. But the right number of bedrooms, square footage and proximity to work and school aside, how much weight should you give to external factors that can potentially have a big impact on a property’s value? Here are 13 things you might want to think twice about living near – some could be a big boost to property value down the line, while others could be a deal-breaker for you and future buyers.A school
(Hero Images/ Getty Images)
Living next door to or down the street from a school can be a selling point for families with school-age children, but a headache for those without kids. “Kids can walk to school, and it’s very convenient … but people without kids might not be too thrilled with that,” says David Michalski, principal broker and president of Fairfax Realty in Falls Church, Virginia. He notes a high school in particular can create noise pollution with football games and other events that stretch into the late evening.Train tracks
A short walk or drive to a commuter train may be convenient, but few homeowners want their property to back up to train tracks. Noise at all hours of the day and night will not only be a nuisance that drags down your property value, but a freight train that carries hazardous materials may also be a concern to consider. “Trains can crash and tip over, and you have all kinds of issues there,” Michalski says.A mall
A shopping mall or retail development may be nice to have a short drive away, but most buyers are going to steer clear, says James Krueger, broker/owner of Krueger Real Estate in Houston. “People like to live in a neighborhood, and when you’re right next to something commercial like that, you lose your neighborhood feel,” he says. For those who don’t mind living close to commercial property, you can likely get a good deal on a house.A lake, river or beach
A lake, river or beach
On the opposite end of the spectrum, waterfront property tends to go for a premium. “People like to have a water view,” says Holly Finn, marketing coordinator for the Finn Team at Coldwell Banker West Shell in Cincinnati. Depending on where you live, you may need to consider the possibility of flooding and factor in the cost of additional homeowners insurance, but that doesn’t necessarily detract buyers. “I’ve seen people pay huge premiums for flood insurance just because of the location,” Krueger says.A cemetery
A cemetery – either connected to a church or nondenominational – can put off homebuyers regardless of whether they believe in ghosts. “That’s going to have a psychological impact, I think, on most people," Michalski says. But some homebuyers see the positives. While sharing property lines with a cemetery might have a minor negative impact on a property’s resale value, a cemetery in current use is far less likely to be developed into homes or commercial buildings in the near future, which means a quieter neighborhood. "Those who don’t let it negatively impact their thinking … love the fact that they’re backing up to a church,” Michalski says.A detention center or jail
A detention center or jail
The only plus for living near a detention center or jail would be if you worked there, Krueger says. The thought of potential jailbreaks and the sight of the imposing (and typically unattractive) structure of a detention center is a deterrent for most homebuyers. Krueger says he knows of a nice, gated housing community located down the road from a detention center in the Houston suburbs: “There’s a lot of buyers that see the detention center on the drive there and say, ‘We’re not going to go here.’”An apartment complex
An apartment complex
Buying a single-family home next door to an apartment community may not seem like too much of a negative for day-to-day living. But Michalski notes it can be like buying the nicest house on the block, where the surrounding properties have the potential to drag down your home’s value. When purchasing a house near a multifamily building, “you’re buying a much more expensive property compared to what’s next door to you,” Michalski says.A park
As with any external feature, a park may not be for everyone, but most homebuyers are going to see the appeal of backing up to, facing or living down the street from one. “Generally speaking, overall you’ve got to say that’s a positive,” Michalski says. Krueger adds that while an urban versus suburban location may have a bigger or smaller impact, the general consensus is that “there’s going to be a price markup for that kind of property.” So be ready to pay more for a home near a park, and hopefully make more when you decide to sell down the line.A casino or sports stadium
A casino or sports stadium
Bright lights all night and the potential for increased traffic may not sound like a plus, but a new casino could mean other business development that serves as a big boost to home values. Michalski was involved in a few sales near the MGM National Harbor casino in Oxon Hill, Maryland, and says the announcement of the facility served as a boost for the surrounding residential real estate, as a new outlet mall and hotels with conference facilities developed as well. “Because of the massive development that went on around there, a lot of property value went up within a several-mile radius,” Michalski says.A power plant
A power plant
Whether you’re concerned about overexposure to electromagnetic energy or simply don’t want to deal with a commercial compound near your home, a power plant tends to be considered a downside for a house on the market. Finn says a power plant is “definitely a negative in terms of home values if they’re near anything electrical – a power line field as well.”A water treatment facility
A water treatment facility
People largely don’t like sharing property lines with commercial developments, but Krueger says a water treatment facility could be a plus for some buyers – especially if they like the idea of seclusion. “The fact that you don’t have a backyard neighbor can be an attraction for some people,” he says. Some water treatment facilities are specifically designed to fit in with the neighborhood and have attractive facades, to avoid dragging down home values or being an eyesore.A highway
If you’re OK with the extra noise a highway will bring, get excited to land a great deal on a house that backs up to a major thoroughfare. But when it comes time to sell, be ready to price it for less than otherwise comparable homes. Backing up to a highway will always be deemed a negative – and while a wall serving as a sound barrier may help, it’s still considered undesirable. “On the other side of the street, even, is higher in value than the one that backs up to the highway,” Finn says.Airplane flight paths
Airplane flight paths
“Most buyers are going to be leery of something that makes a lot of noise,” Krueger says. But because frequent flight paths aren’t visually obvious like a highway or railroad, you might want to do your research when it comes to the neighborhoods planes fly over most, as the seller may not be obligated to tell you. “In Texas, that’s not a requirement of disclosure, so that’s going to be the buyer’s due diligence for sure,” Krueger says. You may be able to look up a map showing general flight paths surrounding the nearest airport, but to find out if noise is noticeable on a specific street or in a home, you'd likely have to spend some time there and observe.Read More
She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.
Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.