Finding the right neighborhood that fits your lifestyle is important if you want to be happy with your home purchase. Here are 11 questions to ask yourself to pick the perfect neighborhood.
When you’re ready to buy a new home, whether you’re a first-time homebuyer or a retiree looking to downsize—keep in mind that you’re not just purchasing four walls and a roof, you’re also buying into the local community. The neighborhood matters. The more work you put into finding the right neighborhood, the happier you’ll be with the final results. If you get stuck in a neighborhood that’s not for you, there’s not much you can do about it short of moving again.
Aim to find a neighborhood you can see yourself living in for longer than you plan on owning your new house. If you think certain aspects of a neighborhood are a bit off initially, they’re probably not going to get better. Like any other step of the home buying process, doing your own research is key. Consider these important questions when you’re trying to pick the right place to live.
1. Do you fit in?
Knowing the culture of a neighborhood is one of the most important factors when it comes to deciding if the area is the right choice. If you’re young and hoping to mingle with the local community, moving into a community full of retirees and empty nesters might not fit your needs.
On the other hand, if you’re a family with young children, it might not want to move next door to a fraternity house that throws huge parties every weekend. Be aware of the community experience you’re looking for—whether it’s diverse, LGBTQ+ friendly, or conservative—and try to find a neighborhood that best facilitates it.
2. Do you feel safe?
Feeling safe in your home and neighborhood is probably one of your top priorities. Visit the neighborhood at different times of day. If possible, try to spend the night in the area. Quiet areas by day can quickly transform into rowdy places at rush hour and night. If possible, ask neighbors and locals about the neighborhood’s safety record.
Do your research and read up on local news, browse the crime blotter, check the sex offender registry and local crime stats, and see what neighborhood ranking websites have to say. Just be aware that many of these statistics can make things appear worse than they are, so don’t stress yourself out.
3. How is the location, really?
When you fall in love with a house, it’s easy to rationalize an inconvenient location by telling yourself it’s “only a short drive” from everything you need. But you should be thorough and test the neighborhood out for yourself. See how long it takes to commute to work, the gym, and your other favorite amenities.
On the flipside, the perfect neighborhood might seem like one that’s close to everything you want, but you might find that an easy commute is worth having a nicer house. Spend as much time in the neighborhood as you can and make sure it’s the right fit. The last thing you want to do is purchase a new home only to realize that you’re spending twice as long as you thought you would in your car every day.
4. What role does family play in your life?
Parents need to account for many more factors when choosing a neighborhood. If you already have kids or plan to have kids in the future, you have to pay closer attention to things like the school district, crime rates, and local parks.
If buying your first home coincides with plans for starting a family, be prepared for how competitive the market gets in the top school districts. Schools have such a big impact on values that homes near top-scoring schools can cost dramatically more than homes just minutes away in an underperforming district.
5. Is the neighborhood a good investment?
When you’re in the market for a home, you want to buy something that will appreciate over time. Your greatest tool here is a knowledgeable real estate agent. They will know the local real estate market and can tell you if the neighborhood is on the rise.
Some ways to tell if a neighborhood is growing is to check out its walkability, see if new businesses and developments are popping up in the area, and the public transit options. Places where you don’t need a car to live and work are increasingly growing in popularity.
6. Are you aware of the community rules?
Some neighborhoods are governed by a homeowner’s association (HOA) or, more informally, a neighborhood association that controls certain aspects of life in the community. While some associations mostly handle landscaping, snow removal, and other maintenance, others are more involved and have strict rules. For example, there might be a rule forbidding parking motorcycles in your driveway or restricting what color you can paint your home and designating quiet hours.
It’s critical to check with your agent about local rules and regulations and carefully review community rules before you commit to a home to make sure they fit your lifestyle.
7. Is there anything around that might become a nuisance?
Certain unexpected things like smells and sounds often go unnoticed or ignored during initial walkthroughs, only to be discovered during the first week you spend in your new home. To avoid getting stuck in a situation where loud noises wake you up every night or your home is permeated with cooking odors all day, keep an eye out for things like train tracks, restaurants, concert venues, and factories when you visit.
Make note of other nuisances as well, like unkempt properties and home businesses that mean frequent visitors. Even if these things don’t bother you, keep in mind that they can affect your property value.
8. How much will your taxes and other expenses be?
Some areas tend to have significantly higher property taxes than others. Make sure you can afford the taxes before making your purchase, especially if you’re anticipating your home’s value increasing.
You should also make sure that you factor in HOA fees and be aware that they are periodically recalculated and usually increase over time.
9. How are the amenities?
The right neighborhood can make your life a lot more convenient if it’s got the right amenities. Do you need a public park or dog park nearby? Do you want a cafe to work in or a good restaurant for a quick lunch? If you’re already making frequent trips to places like the gym, a pool, or the dry cleaners, a neighborhood with these amenities close by can save you time and money. It’s also important to account for public transportation and what public services, like trash collection, are offered.
Also take into account what cable and internet providers serve certain areas, especially if having a specialized service like fiber is important to you. These little “extras” are often the deciding factors in choosing one neighborhood over another.
10. Will it be welcoming for guests?
If you enjoy hosting friends and family, consider your neighborhood from the standpoint of visiting guests. Think about things like guest parking, ease of access, and community safety. While your car might be safely parked in the garage, you should consider what the road parking is like in the area. If someone comes into town for a visit, are they likely to get a parking ticket or fall victim to theft?
11. What is your gut telling you?
Don’t be afraid to listen to your gut. Even with all your due diligence and advice from your real estate agent, if your gut is telling you there’s something off—listen. A good real estate agent will completely understand if you’re just getting a bad vibe and won’t push it.
If you want more personal feedback about the area, consult additional resources to get a fuller picture. Try to find out what localized blogs have to say about the neighborhood or visit local businesses like coffee shops and ask the baristas how they like it. This can be a good way to get additional information you can’t find elsewhere and it will also give you a better idea of how you’ll fit it into the local community.
By fully educating yourself on what you’re buying into, you’re less likely to set yourself up for disappointment.