The old real estate adage, “location, location, location,” is absolutely spot-on when it comes to pricing, but certainly goes much deeper. In fact, the location of your next home is the one thing you can’t change, so doing your homework up front can make all the difference in how much you enjoy your new home, neighbors and community.
By examining information found online and through your own experience visiting neighborhoods and talking to locals, you can become more informed, confident, and comfortable in the next area you choose to call home.
[See: The Best Apps for House Hunting.]
Snoop social media. With the plethora of information provided throughout social media, use it to your advantage as you look for more information on where you’re moving. Neighborhoods and subdivisions often create pages for upcoming events, important notifications and yes, that annoying neighborhood gossip. While not all of these pages are made public, you may have to find a friend who is a member, or directly message the page administrator to gain access.
Take a hike. After exploring the digital realm, taking a look at the neighborhood in person is the best next step. Take your time to drive, walk and explore not only the neighborhood you’re zeroing in on, but the surrounding ones as well. Pay attention to the neighbors, how they interact with one another and how they keep their houses.
Everyone’s preferences are different, and exploring different neighborhoods will help you to form your own list of priorities. Before making your final decision, walk the area and go through your list to make sure it has everything you want in your next neighborhood. Are there sidewalks with street lights? Are the streets wide or cramped? Do the neighbors seem to take pride in their houses’ exteriors? If it’s a nice day, are people out and about, or do they seem to be huddled inside?
Grab a drink. This may be the single-most enjoyable piece of advice you get when it comes to house hunting – grab a beer. Find a local restaurant that has a bar and head in for a drink, but make sure you sit at the bar. Why so specific? A restaurant will attract all types of people, but the bar portion fosters conversation.
While you sit and relax after scoping out the neighborhoods, you can either sit back and people watch or strike up a conversation. A more clearly painted picture can never be found than from the one painted by the people who live there.
Do your homework. Now that you’re refreshed, it’s time to get back to the grindstone. Work with your real estate agent to dig up comparable sales over the past several years to find out if the neighborhood you’re looking at is in line with local and national trends. There are going to be ups and downs to every market, but make sure your specific neighborhood isn’t raising its own unique red flags – declining home values when the rest of the city is increasing can signify a bad investment down the line.
If you find the comparable sales for that length of time to be overwhelming, ask your agent if they have access through their local multiple listing service to a statistics tracker. While national websites can be unreliable, localized ones can typically break down updated information for each county, zip code and subdivision.
Become a private eye. You may find your agent isn’t able to provide some of the information you hoped. Fair housing laws and many real estate associations prohibit agents from discussing any crime statistics about a neighborhood. A general rule of thumb – agents are there to discuss houses, not people.
Begin your research with larger sites, like CrimeReports.com or NeighborhoodScout.com, and then move on to Google for more targeted information. By searching for reports and statistics by state, you are more likely to find websites that will provide more specific and updated information than on their larger, national counterparts.
Scout the schools. Schools don’t affect just those with children. They offer insight into community pride, local economic strength, and can seriously affect the resale of your home. Find which public schools your children would attend based on the neighborhood or address you’re considering, and gain better insight through online rankings and ratings like U.S. News Best High Schools, GreatSchools.org and SchoolDigger.com. Visit the school as well, because different institutions will meet a child’s needs in different ways, and it’s all about personal preference.