When you're trying to find the best places to live, choosing a neighborhood is almost as critical as choosing a house or apartment. It needs to be safe with low crime rates, affordable, with people you can imagine befriending. Depending on the age of your family, you may also be looking for families with children, access to playgrounds, a good school district, and more.
If you're planning on purchasing a home, keep in mind that you're not just buying a house, you're investing in a neighborhood. The two are synonymous so you need to be extra careful in choosing the area you'll be living in.
Ask the Right Questions
Ask yourself what the most important features of a neighborhood are. What makes a neighborhood special to you? Remember that you're thinking not just about your own preferences but about all the members of your family. Do you prefer:
- Quiet streets or a busier, active area?
- Walking to amenities?
- Trees and parks?
- Close proximity to shopping and restaurants?
- Older neighborhood or a newer development?
- Tight-knit community or anonymity?
As you think through these questions, be sure you also consider the particular needs of family members. Do you have young children who will need to walk to school? If you don't have a car for every family member, will some of you need access to public transportation?
Now that you have that perfect neighborhood pictured in your mind, let's look at key factors you should consider.
Crime Rates Online
Using a search engine, type in the name of the city and "crime statistics by neighborhood". This should generate some information, depending on the size of the city. Most larger urban areas have detailed crime reports, while smaller towns may only have general information. Do bear in mind that different parts of the same town may be safer or dangerous, so it's helpful to ask around or even read crime reports in the local papers.
Contact the Local Police Department
The police department will provide details about a particular area. This is probably your best source for information on crime and safety. Most police stations will also provide details on how active the community is if they are involved in crime prevention or community policing.
Drive Around the Area
Look for graffiti or other kinds of vandalism such as broken windows. Do homes have strong deterrents such as "Beware of Dog" signs or high fences or bars on accessible windows?
Take a Look Around
Spend time walking through the neighborhood. Try doing this at different times of the day to get a sense of its highs and lows. Take note of the condition of the houses, the front yards, the streets, and sidewalks. Observe if people you encounter make eye contact with you. If they do, chances are it's a safe and friendly community.
Check for vacant lots or abandoned buildings. Both could be used for commercial developments which could change the feel of the neighborhood and impact the property values. Note the traffic and speed and if the streets seem quiet or noisy.
Also, note the type of individuals living in the area. Are most of the residents young singles? Young families? Middle-aged? Retirement age? Or is the community a good mix of ages? Is the neighborhood made up mainly of single-family homes, apartment buildings, high rises, or condos?
How long will it take to get to work? Will you be going with or against traffic? Is the route easy to navigate? It's a good idea to try the route during rush hour to find out whether it's manageable.
Is there public transportation available as an alternative to driving? During peak times, how often does the transit stop?
If you need access to the airport, how far is the drive? What is the cost to hire a taxi? Is public transportation an option?
The sign of a good neighborhood is a well-kept school. And if you have children, this is probably the first consideration when looking for a good neighborhood. You can also learn about the schools online, which is well worth your while if you have school-aged children. How large are the classes? How well do students perform on standardized tests? Do most of the children graduate from high school and/or go on to college?
Another factor to consider is how your child will get to school. Is there public transportation? Can they walk? Is it safe? How far is it to drive?
Current Value of Housing
Find out what houses in the neighborhood are currently valued at then ask a real estate agent how that compares with the average value five and ten years earlier. How much has the property increased? Has the neighborhood changed? Is the real estate agent aware of any future developments? Do be aware, though, that realtors are not allowed to express an opinion such as "this neighborhood is wealthy and safe," or "that neighborhood is dangerous and poor," so you might also want to knock on a few doors and ask questions of potential neighbors.
Information can be found at city hall or through the local Chamber of Commerce. Future developments change a neighborhood, increase taxes, and increase traffic. It's a good idea to investigate the future potential of the neighborhood then decide if that outlook will be suitable for you and your family.
Find out from the real estate agent or the city what the current tax rate is and how much it has increased in the last five years. Is there another expected increase? How much might you pay in five years? Build this amount into your moving budget.
If you decided earlier that the ability to walk to amenities or at least have easy access to them is important, then make sure you note if day-to-day requirements can be met. How close are you to a grocery store, convenient store, cafes, and restaurants? If there are bars close-by, how noisy will it be on the weekends?
If you're a person who enjoys getting involved with the community, you might want to look into nearby houses of worship, art centers, libraries, and other centers of activity. Consider checking out the local newspaper, websites, or bulletin boards to find out what's going on in the area from week to week.