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Finding the Right Neighborhood

Choosing a neighborhood in which to live is as challenging – and as important – as choosing the home itself. Think about the amenities that are important to you. There are so many questions that come to mind, but here are some of the basics:

  1. Log onto the Internet and check the city's website and try to collect as much information as you can about the area; most cities also have some sort of a police blotter that you can view online as well as statistical crime data.

    http://www.city-data.com/ gives you detailed information about cities throughout the nation and carries information about schools and statistics, including test scores, crime rates, weather, demographics, income, etc. This is the best place to begin your search because you want to be sure you are buying in a neighborhood that will increase in value.

  2. Check the records! You can visit the local city and check out the builder and/or architect information on the tract or neighborhood you are considering.

    For example, there is a neighborhood in my city where the builder neglected to install rebar in the foundation. The majority of these homes now have cracked slabs (foundations) and require tens of thousands of dollars to correct. As a resident, of course, you may know this, but if you are moving into the area and working on your own or with an uninformed agent, you most likely will not know this.

    This can, of course, affect your safety as well as your investment. Another thing to look into of course is the overall quality of construction -- good, bad or average? What types of roofs do the majority of the homes have? That's always a good indicator.

  3. Does the neighborhood look good? Are there tree-lined streets, sidewalks, underground or above ground utilities? How do you feel when you walk or drive through the neighborhood? This is a good way to gauge how others may feel when you try to resell it in the future.

  4. Is the neighborhood a tract, or custom homes? Are they similar to each other in size, style and age? Some areas may have more custom than tract homes and values can change from home to home. With an area like this, you tend to see a much lower valuation placed on the homes in general, rather than a tract of similar homes.

  5. What types of activities are available in the neighborhood? Is there a community center? A community pool, spa and recreation room? Is there a park or library nearby? Take a walk or drive through the neighborhood at different times of the day as well as on weekends and observe what it's like. Are children playing outside? Are there people riding their bikes, walking their dogs? Be sure to be there during peak hours as well to check the traffic flow -- this can have a huge impact on your resale value.

  6. What is nearby? How many shopping centers, gas stations, and liquor stores are within walking distance? Is there a hospital nearby? How is the public transportation? Is there a railroad track nearby? Bus stops? Large office park? Again, these items will have a huge effect on the desirability of the neighborhood but because everyone's needs differ, determine what it means to you.

  7. Are there signs of new construction in the area? How will this affect neighborhood values? How will this affect the neighborhood demographics? How will this affect the traffic flow?

Some other items to consider:

  1. How long will it take you to get to work? What will it cost?
  2. How far will you be from family members and friends?
  3. How far will you be from your regular activities such as churches, sports, school, etc?
  4. Does the neighborhood have a Homeowners Association? If so, what are the fees and what do they cover?
  5. What are the Homeowners Association rules and regulations? In some states this documentation can only be obtained through escrow and is not arbitrarily handed out.
  6. What are the county and city taxes and assessments?
  7. Are there income restrictions on the neighborhood? When does the restriction lift?

Your best strategy is to speak with those who already live in the neighborhood and get a sense of how they feel about it. If you meet someone whose home is for sale, find out why they are selling -- was it because of something in the neighborhood or are they moving out of the area? If possible, try to find out why. This could be a potential red flag -- or a lucky break for you.

By asking these questions and taking the time to do your research on a particular neighborhood, you will be able to make a more informed decision as to whether this is the right fit for you. The impact can have lifelong repercussions so you need to be sure to do your homework and address those items that are important to you!

Suzanne Grace is a real estate agent in Southern California.

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