Real EstateReal Estate Tips November 4, 2021

Essential questions to find your ideal neighborhood

When you’re house hunting, it’s natural to focus on a list of wants and needs for your ideal house, but what about finding your ideal neighborhood? Where you live can affect how happy you are in your new home and might just save you a lot of money down the road. So let’s talk about location and what questions to ask so you can find your perfect community.

Location, location, location

Chances are you’ve heard that real estate is about: “location, location, location.” What does this really mean? It means: 1) try to make the best investment by buying in the best location you can afford, and 2) buy a home in the place that will make you the happiest. On the financial side, the best location you can afford will likely be a better investment over time. This article focuses on the happiness side, because wherever you buy your home, you’ll want to have access to all the things that are the most important to you and your lifestyle.


What questions should I ask to find the best neighborhood?

Let’s start with the basics. If you already live where you’re planning to buy, what part of your city/town do you like the best and why? Where do you spend most of your time, and are there areas that you’d rather avoid? Spend some time visiting your favorite neighborhoods to get a real feel for them. Drive and walk around these areas at different times of the day. Also, ask friends and family for recommendations.

What if you don’t live where you’re going to buy and can’t visit in person?

There are a lot of ways to learn about the best neighborhood for you, even without visiting in person:

  • Join or follow a social media group/account for the city/town and ask local residents about what the best neighborhoods to live in are and why
  • Visit tourism websites to see the amenities and attractions available in different areas of the city/town/area
  • Search Google maps for grocery stores, schools, parks, major highways, recreation centers etc., and then use Google Earth to view street photos of the neighborhoods near amenities that are important to you
  • Search the local newspapers or social media sites about the city or town to learn about top-rated neighborhoods. Also, pay attention to news stories (like new construction or development, crime reports, and transportation concerns – more on this later)
  • If you’re using a realtor, talk to them about the best neighborhoods and why people seem to choose one area over another.

 

What do you need at your current stage in life, and are you buying for the long term?

It’s important to try to match the stage of your life with your ideal neighborhood, so you can get the most out of where you live. For instance, if you’re a young working professional who enjoys socializing, it might be important to you to be close to restaurants and nightlife. If you’ve just started a family, you’ll be thinking about daycares, schools, and parks. 

What are your future needs?

Aside from your current needs and wants, it’s also important that, if you plan to stay somewhere long term, you think long term about how your needs will change over time. This could save you money later by avoiding an expensive move because your neighborhood no longer meets your needs. For example, if you’re single or newly married and this is your first house, maybe at some point you’ll have children. So, while schools might not be on your list of considerations now, they might be important down the road.

Are you downsizing?

If you’re downsizing because your children have left home, then other factors for choosing a neighborhood will be important for your stage of life. For example, look into how easy it is to walk in the neighborhood. You might be driving now, but as you age you may wish to have things within close walking distance or to have easily accessible transit. Also, consider what seniors’ amenities are in the neighborhood, as well as the types of amenities that you’d like to enjoy when you retire, such as golf courses, libraries, bike trails, pools, community centers, and so on.

The ever-important lifestyle question: what about commuting?

Workers’ commutes have gotten longer and longer in America. No matter where you plan to live, really think about how much commuting time you can handle, especially given your daily schedule and priorities. It’s important to analyze trade-offs, like getting home sooner versus having a bigger home, especially if you’ve never had a long commute before. It would be disappointing and expensive to move a second time because a commuting lifestyle was a bigger surprise than you anticipated. If you can, practice the drive from several neighborhoods you’re considering to see what it’s really like to make the daily trip.

Some people who commute via transit find they don’t mind the travel time, because they can work while they are riding or listen to music and wind down before arriving home. Still, given the choice, most people would probably rather have a shorter bus ride than a longer one! If you plan to take transit to work, how close is it to the neighborhood you’re considering, and how much time would it take you to get to and from your job? How frequent and reliable is the transit in the area? If you can, test out the transit trip to see what it’s really like.

What amenities are the most important to you?

Where do you travel the most during the day? Are there regular places you go that you’d like to be extra close to, such as a church, gym, daycare, children’s activities, shopping, or restaurants? The more amenities a neighborhood has to offer that fits your lifestyle, the happier you’ll likely be living there.

Are there tools for neighborhood ratings?

Yes, there are many websites you can use to compare neighborhood ratings. First off, most large real estate listing websites provide neighborhood information, like walkability, noise level, transit, parks, schools, cycling, and shopping. There are also websites that provide information on the level of crime in a neighborhood. Some websites even show you the local demographics of a neighborhood, like the percentage of households with children and average household income. There are also websites that will help you match your current neighborhood with similar ones in another city.

Okay, you’ve narrowed down your list to a few key neighborhoods–what about unexpected surprises?

Imagine you move into the neighborhood of your dreams only to find out that a new waste management site will be built down the road, or that an entire new subdivision is going in beside you? No one wants a surprise like this.

Search town/city plans

Big changes to neighborhoods, like new builds and developments, don’t happen overnight. Major approvals that have to be met by the local government. Do some digging into the city/town website, as well as searching the local news. Find out if any large developments are planned for the neighborhoods you’re most interested in. Also take note of the location of large highways, train tracks, and airports. An ideal neighborhood might not be so great if it’s under a common flight path!

What about natural disasters?

Another money-saving question is whether there are any natural hazards that could disrupt the neighborhood you want to live in. Suddenly a great deal on a house isn’t so tempting if you discover the neighborhood is on a flood plain. If you’re using a realtor, ask them to check into things like flood plains, slide zones, and even common flooding areas (some neighborhoods might be prone to drainage problems). While many natural disasters aren’t avoidable, the more you know about what you’re buying into can save you money and hardship.

Let’s recap: what are the essential questions to find the perfect neighborhood for you?

We’ve looked at several important aspects, from lifestyle, commuting, and ratings to potential hazards. Here are seven basic questions to get you started on your ideal neighborhood search:

  1. What neighborhoods do I like the best or do people have great things to say about?
  2. What are my needs at this stage in my life? Will I want to stay in this home for a long time, if so how might my needs change over time?
  3. What about commuting times and options?
  4. What amenities are the most important to me?
  5. What do neighborhood ratings show about the areas I’m interested in?
  6. Are there any major developments planned for the neighborhoods I like?
  7. Are there any potential hazards that could exist?

 

With the answers to this set of questions, along with your financial plans for house buying/investment, you will be armed with important information to make an informed decision about where you’ll be the happiest.

 

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Founded in 1915, the Weidel family of companies has grown to encompass all parts of the residential and commercial real estate markets, including brokerage through Weidel Real Estate, real estate mortgages and finance through Princeton Mortgage , title insurance through Princeton Assurance Corporation, and real estate education and licensing through the Princeton School of Real Estate.