There are plenty of things to consider when deciding where to live, especially if it’s a home you’re going to purchase for the long haul and not just another temporary apartment. But in all honesty, few things are as important to a new home buyer as location.
That said, you have to have a critical eye. It’s just as easy to fall in love with a dream home in a lousy neighborhood as it is to settle for a not-so-perfect home in a great area.
Ask these 8 questions before house hunting
We feel it’s best to choose a neighborhood first, then look for a home in that neighborhood. If you want the best of both worlds — a great home in a great location — check out our list of things to ask yourself before getting started.
1 — How will I get to work?
If you’ve been working remotely, your commute may be from the bedroom to the laptop on the sofa. Good for you. But many people in the US still need to travel to a physical place to do their job, even if just a few days a week. Time and distance matter a lot, but you can’t get an accurate feel for a commute until you actually do a dry run from the neighborhoods you’re considering, especially during rush hour traffic. If driving to work, try out a few different routes. Or if you’ll be relying on public transportation, give that a go, too. Travel for business? Consider how long it will take to get to the nearest airport.
And think about the future. People change jobs more often than they change homes to, so consider a neighborhood that will still be an easy commute where jobs in your field show the most promise.
2 — What’s the local shopping scene like?
We all shop online these days to some degree, but having nearby grocery stores, clothing shops, home supply retailers, family entertainment options and a choice of restaurants is always a good thing. Is there a downtown “Main Street” shopping district? Are big box stores or malls a long drive away? Will parking be an issue? These are all good things to think about now, so they don’t become a headache down the road.
3 — Can I safely take a stroll?
A recent study found that 80% of Americans prefer being in communities with sidewalks. And over half prefer neighborhoods that feature a mix of houses, parks, shops and services within an easy walk. Living somewhere pedestrian-friendly is also a great selling point for dog-owners and families with kids.
If you’re looking for a place out in the countryside, you may not be concerned with walkability. But if getting around by foot is important to you, visit the neighborhood you’re considering to look for sidewalks, walking paths and proper crosswalks and intersections. Want to know more about sidewalks? We found a bunch of great sidewalk stats!
4 — What about schools?
Sidewalks are also key if your kids might be walking to and from school. This brings us to why it’s essential to seek out neighborhoods with reputable school systems. Ask the local Board of Ed if they provide tours. Or attend a PTA meeting or a community event and chat with the locals — they’ll be happy to tell you what the real issues are. We suggest doing this even if you don’t have kids: a well-run school district — or nearby university — can really improve your home’s resale value down the road.
5 — What will I do for fun?
When thinking about where your new home is to be located, consider all the seasons. If you’re a skier and house hunting in summer, think about how far you’ll need to travel to get to the slopes. Buying in winter? Don’t forget to ask about local golf ranges, if that’s your thing. Outdoor enthusiasts might want to look for places within a short distance from hiking and biking trails. Playgrounds and public pools are top of the list for new families. And dog parks are a must for people with pooches. Whatever you’re into, you’ll want to make sure that the surrounding area’s recreational options are a match.
6 — How safe is the neighborhood?
Every neighborhood has some crime. The trick is to find one with a crime rate that matches your tolerance level. Get out the laptop and search “crime statistics” for the neighborhood you’re interested in. You’ll find everything from quality-of-life issues to corruption to (hopefully limited) criminality. This stuff can be eye-opening and give you a pretty good idea of what the neighborhood is willing to put up with. If you’re on the fence, attend a local neighborhood watch meeting to see what’s up — just Google “neighborhood association” and the name of the city you’re considering.
7 — What can I find out about property taxes?
The problem with property taxes (besides paying them) is that you can’t count on them to stay the same year after year. If you’re seriously interested in a specific neighborhood, investigate the average property taxes for the area. Go back a few years to see if taxes have fluctuated or if they’re steadily headed upward! You’ll want to factor those costs into your estimated monthly mortgage payments. But be prepared that they’ll adjust every 12 months.
Newer developments or revitalized neighborhoods will probably see taxes rise as amenities are added and home values increase. Older communities that haven’t been hit with a tax adjustment in a while may fall victim to future property tax revaluations. Something to take into account when looking for your next new neighborhood.
8 — What’s in store for the future?
Once you’ve narrowed down an area you want to love in, think ahead! Reach out to the local planning office and ask about upcoming development — they can and will impact your new neighborhood.
For example, widening the streets can lead to more traffic and noise. And vacant plots of land could turn into mini-malls, car lots, golf courses or more housing, leading to more congestion. Wooded areas and wetlands that you think are perfect for recreation could be bought and developed if not protected.
It’s hard to predict your neighborhood’s future. The best thing to do is educate yourself and, if you choose to buy in that area, get involved in the community.
Ready To Make The Leap?
Remember, no matter how much you fall in love with a listing, there’s nothing you can do to change its location. Take the time to connect with a local expert — a real estate agent who’ll be familiar with the best areas and what’s in the market in your price range. It’s especially important to work with an experienced lender. We have mortgage professionals across the country who can help with financing when you’re ready.