Shopping for a home? Look for a neighborhood.
Search online for “How to buy a home” and you’ll get page after page on how to build your credit score, how to get preapproved for a home loan, how to lock in your loan rate, and so on.
All great things to know, but you may wish years later that you had asked somewhat different questions before buying your home, such as:
“How come no one told me the house across the street was a rental?”
“Does it always take 25 minutes to get to the grocery store?”
“Why is the nearest school bus stop three blocks away?”
“Say, when did they decide to put a freeway through here?”
Buying a home is more than just granite countertops and a three-car garage. It’s a commitment to a neighborhood that can make your life happier –- or more challenging -– for years to come.
Before you shop for the real estate, consider shopping for the neighborhood. It takes more time at the beginning, but you’ll be glad you took the time to go beyond the listing photos to find the neighborhood that reflects your lifestyle, values, and character.
Here are eight ideas to shop for neighborhoods that fit you:
- List what you think you want, then argue against it. For example, you want to live in the country, but what about the cloud of dust that blows in with every passing truck? Or say you want to be at the heart of the city, but what about the restaurants and entertainment venues that make noise all night? List your pros and cons to narrow the neighborhoods.
- Use Google and other online sources to narrow down the neighborhoods best for you. Locals may be reluctant to talk about the convenience store opening up at the end of the block, but if it was in the news, it’s likely to show up on the Internet. Use online sources to glean information about schools, development, crime, government, weather patterns, and other issues.
- Study the age demographics of potential neighborhoods. If you’re retired, you may not want to be sandwiched between young couples with children, but if you’ve got a family, you may want to live in a neighborhood where children can play safely in the yard or a nearby park.
- Ask around: What do friends, co-workers, family, city employees, and social media sites say about certain neighborhoods? Is the neighborhood known for holiday lights or power outages? Block parties or crime? Nice lawns or toilet bowl flower pots?
- Walk the neighborhoods under consideration. Pretend you’re the mayor and get out of your car to see what people do on a typical Saturday. Are they friendly or fearful? Healthy or hoarders? Focused on the family or the TV? Good people or good riddance?
- Once you’ve identified the top neighborhoods for you, hang out at the local coffee shop or gathering place. You’ll quickly learn about the types of people who live in the neighborhood, what are the biggest concerns -– and benefits! — and what local folks are making a difference.
- Once you’ve identified a possible home, go meet the neighbors on the block. You’ll be surprised what you’ll learn if you introduce yourself as the guy/gal who’s thinking of moving in next door. If their first reaction is “Keep your kids out of my yard,” you’ll know you’ve got some work to repair relationships. But if it’s “Can we help you move in?” then you’ve already made a friend.
- Imagine what the neighborhood may be like in 10 years. Will the neighborhood be the place everyone dreams of living or the place where nightmares come true? How your neighborhood evolves during the next decade will affect the value of your home and your willingness to live longer in your home.
Good deals on homes happen all the time, but a great neighborhood takes years to develop. Give yourself time to find the neighborhood best suited for you. It’s the best way to ensure that your new homeowner’s grin stays on your face once you step out the front door.