Should I vet a neighborhood before moving into it? (Yes, take it from someone who didn’t!)
Asking a realtor this question might be a sticky situation, especially if they are a professional with integrity and ethics as they are not supposed to judge whether it is a “bad neighborhood” or not. They can, however, provide insights into a neighborhood, showcasing features such as traffic flow, overall quietness as well as proximity of employment and shopping options. Providing a list of things wanted in a neighborhood can help them determine if the home’s neighborhood is a good fit or not before even spending time looking.
Clearly, moving into a neighborhood that has had a recent stretch of foreclosures is not a good idea. However, sometimes the neighborhood may be in decline, and it will not be noticed until a few months after you have moved in. Ask your real estate agent about the neighborhood market, specifically if there is a concern that the neighborhood may decrease in the desirability factor.
How do I know if a neighborhood is safe?
Top ways to know if a neighborhood is safe:
- Use crime mapping services
- Look on the National Sex Offender Public website
- Check the number of homes for sale in area
- Cruise the neighborhood to see an up-close look at the conditions
- Talk to the people who already live in the area
- Ask a local moving company to describe the type of customers they have had in that area
Visiting at different times of the day is a good idea as well before making that final decision. It is also recommended to go on the weekends during the day and night to really get a good idea of what you are walking into.
Chat with the neighbors while exploring the neighborhood if possible. Try greeting people who are out and about. You just might hear some honest opinions, ranging from how frequently a neighbor’s dog gets out and roams front yards to information about an annual block party when everyone gets together.
Consider nearby real estate activity information on sites like Zillow, Redfin, realtor.com and Trulia to see how many houses on the potential street are currently for sale or rent, as well as recent sales. Too many may indicate a possible drop in property values, while very few could be a sign that the area is full of long-term residents.
Find the closest businesses and attractions to see how walkable the home would be to shops, restaurants, businesses and the local school to see if it is possible to get around on foot rather than vehicle.
Other things to consider:
- Work commute
- Quality of school districts
- Distance to retail and food sources
- Road or neighborhood noise (or lack there of)
- Closeness to public transit (as long as the location is not the Motor City!)
- Location the house faces (for sun and shade)
Attend a community meeting at established neighborhoods that may have regular community meetings to discuss local policy, issues and plans for public events. In the other cases, the city or township council members representing the area host town halls or forums to hear from residents. Local schools often host PTA meetings for residents to attend as well. By attending any of these meetings, you can learn more about how neighborhood officials handle public complaints and work toward cohesion.
When looking at data about a neighborhood, school or city…take it with a grain of salt. Data collection, algorythms, and statistics, particularly when it comes to crime data or predictions, may carry a bias that is not necessarily obvious or explained well.
Websites that can help provide more information about a neighborhood:
- Walk Score
- The Opportunity Atlas
What is a good way to learn a new neighborhood?
Take a Staycation
What a better way to learn this than living in it. If able, rent an apartment for a week or a long weekend in a neighborhood that has struck an interest. Practice living in the new neighborhood, including commuting, eating, shopping and exercising. Is it fun? Easy? Exciting? Or the total opposite?
Talk to Your Friends
Do you know people in the potential neighborhood? What do friends and acquaintances say about the quality of life? The restaurants? The traffic? The noise? The school system? The parks and playgrounds? The cultural outlets? The commute? If you do not know people already living there, how do you feel about making new friends?
Walk the Streets
All around the world, in just about every city, there are so many neighborhoods with well-established histories. Taking a walking tour can be fun and educational, as well as informative. Is there local lore that makes your potential new neighborhood even more interesting? What is the architecture like? Do the locals in the neighborhood look like how you envision yourself in the next chapter or your life?
What is the local culinary scene like? Are the restaurants elegant and formal, or hip and casual? Is the food basic or inventive? Are the restaurants expensive or more affordable? Whether the restaurants are empty or bustling on a Friday night or even on a Monday night, might speak volumes about the habits of your potential new neighbors.
Envision Your New Life
How does it feel to live in the new neighborhood? Does it feel natural? Does it seem like a good fit? What will it be like to come home to this neighborhood every day after work? Is it something you are looking forward to, or does it seem like a compromise?
Although homeownership has many benefits, it surely is a big commitment. If thinking about moving to a new neighborhood but not ready to invest yet in the area, rent there for about a year to see how it goes.