Learning the ins and outs of a new city or neighborhood can be intimidating, but neighborhood research can help you prepare for a move. Start by pinpointing neighborhoods where you and your family will feel comfortable. A variety of resources are available online to guide you, but it’s also a good idea to tour different areas of a city before purchasing a home.
Rank your preferred neighborhood characteristics
Before starting your neighborhood research, decide which local features are must-haves for you and your family. If highly rated schools are essential, then search for local school districts in the U.S. News and World Report’s Best High Schools Rankings by State.
Work commute is another concern for new-house hunters. To narrow your neighborhood focus, circle your place of employment on a map and decide how long of a commute you can tolerate. Also, don’t forget to test your commute time during rush hour — it may be much longer than weekend driving time.
Do online neighborhood research
Begin online research by reviewing city guides that group information by neighborhood. Also, check Neighborhood Scout for demographic information by state and town. Take advantage of local news sites to get a feel for community events. If you are concerned about crime, pay special attention to local police reports to help understand any frequent problems, especially in the development or streets surrounding the homes you are considering for purchase. If you’re a pet lover, search for pet-friendly neighborhoods with dog parks.
Ask for recommendations
Once you have selected a few neighborhoods that meet your individualized preferences, ask for recommendations from both local friends and professionals. Real estate agents often have extensive knowledge about local markets and can help you find a house in a certain price range in a neighborhood that is right for you. Real estate agents can also provide you with resale information to help you assess whether the area you’re considering is gaining value or decreasing in popularity.
Tour the neighborhood
Once you’ve picked two or three neighborhoods, spend a day or two touring the area. Drive through the neighborhoods at different times of the day, and take note of the activity. Are there a lot of kids playing outside, or are most streets fairly quiet? Look for retailers, grocery stores and community parks in walking distance or short driving distance. Also, try to pay attention to more than the simple visual aspects of the neighborhood. The sound of traffic from a nearby highway or passing commuter trains might be too disruptive if you plan to work from home. Local trash collection centers or sewage treatment centers may not be visible within the neighborhood, but they may emit a far-reaching odor on certain days of the week.
If you’ve decided to take advantage of still-low interest rates and you have a mortgage prequalification in hand, then now is the time to take the next step and begin neighborhood research.
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