First-Time Homebuyer’s Guide: Part 10

Researching the neighborhood

Now that you’ve found your perfect real estate agent, it’s time to find the neighborhood that best fits your lifestyle. Do you want a grocery store and post office within walking distance? What about museums and parks? Coffee shops and clubs? Do you have kids, pets or cars? Answering these questions and others will determine the best place for you to live.

To get the best idea of whether a given neighborhood is right for you, there is no substitute for immersing yourself in it. Gather your own evidence by driving the streets, walking the sidewalks and most importantly, talking to the people. This is a time-consuming commitment, however, and impractical for many first-time homebuyers. If you want to find the best neighborhoods without actually experiencing them, consider these four general topics when doing your research:

Schools
If you have children, the school district is the natural starting point of your search for the best neighborhood. A quality school has a positive effect on a child’s social development and prospects for future success, so it’s important to do some deep digging on this topic. Sites like GreatSchools.org and Zillow.com feature ratings for public and private schools throughout the country, based on test scores, extracurricular activities and teacher/student ratio, among other metrics. Use these relative rankings to narrow down your neighborhood choices at the beginning of your search, but once you have the list of schools down to a few favorites, you’ll want to visit each one before deciding on where to settle.

Attractions
Many people like to be in the thick of things, while others seek a little more solitude and less activity. If museums, theaters and the trendiest restaurants define your leisure time and social calendar, a neighborhood closer to the city is a no-brainer. If you want a good balance between isolation and the cultural hubbub, you’ll be better suited for a suburban community. And when a more remote existence appeals to you, make sure you’re aware of any tourist landmarks or attractions nearby. For instance, if you’re looking at homes on the outskirts of Hodgenville, a charming little town in central Kentucky, the fact that Abraham Lincoln was born there might detract from its out-of-the-way appeal.

Accessibility
Proximity to public transportation, infrastructure or everyday necessities is important to most people when searching for the right neighborhood. Walkscore.com is a useful site when you’re trying to determine relative distances to the bus stop, freeway or grocery store, among other everyday destinations. A neighborhood’s accessibility factor speaks directly to the level of modern convenience with which you’re most comfortable.

Safety
When people talk about safety as it pertains to neighborhoods, crime and violence are usually the subjects of conversation. Indeed, sites like MyLocalCrime.com and CrimeReports.com are must-surf resources for clarifying the relative safety of the neighborhood. But there are additional factors beyond your control that can have an influence on your decision. Other elements of the safety topic include air and water quality and their relationship to large factories, refineries and nuclear power plants; health trends like alcohol and drug use and the prevalence of diseases; and extreme natural weather phenomena like hurricanes, tornados and floods.

In next week’s First-Time Homebuyer’s Guide…
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