Case Out Your Future Neighborhood
The most famous real estate mantra says that the three most important factors in your home’s value are location, location, and location. This may leave some of the home-buying public intimidated by that choice.
There’s no need to stress, however. Both high-tech tools and old schools of thought can effectively help you choose your perfect place.
Don’t Fly Blind
Whether you are new to an area or want to expand your home search into unfamiliar locations, numerous resources can help you neighborhood information. One resource you can’t always rely on for insight into different communities: your real estate agent.
Due to Fair Housing laws, real estate agents cannot tell you directly that schools are good or bad in an area. They can’t offer an opinion on an area’s crime rate.
However, real estate agents can suggest you look at a variety of communities, and can direct you to the information you want.
Information At Your Fingertips
You can search from a wealth of information about demographics, crime and schools online. It’s not difficult to find: you can even use something as simple as Google Maps street view.
For general information, check out Sperling’s Best Places, which provides an array of information about many locations. This includes unemployment, school spending, the cost of living and other demographics, arranged by by zip code.
You can find household income statistics from the Census Bureau at Census Explorer. Neighborhood Scout provides seemingly unlimited demographic information and also identifies factors that make a neighborhood special.
Whether you have children or are planning to have children, you may be interested in the quality of the local schools. Even if you don’t plan to have children, school quality matters.
It influences the desirability of living in the neighborhood and on home values. Check out Great Schools and School Digger for school ratings.
You can look for crime information on Family Watchdog, Crime Reports or Neighborhood Scout. If you’re concerned about environmental hazards that could impact your family’s health, search the Environmental Protection Agency’s MyEnvironment site.
If you want to know about transportation options and walkability, check out WalkScore, BikeScore and TransitScore. When you visit a neighborhood, use the Around Me app. It helps you find things like parks, restaurants, coffee shops, libraries, fitness centers and shops.
If you have a specific address you want to check out, you can get a free comprehensive Home Disclosure report powered by data from RealtyTrac.
The report provides information about more than 42 factors such as nearby registered sex offenders, nearby former drug labs, the presence of environmental hazards, school information as well as real estate information such as the sales history of the property.
You can also check out price trends on various real estate listing sites to see if home values are trending up or down. This can tell you a little bit about the direction the community is going and can also help you decide how much room you have to negotiate if you plan to make an offer on a home in the area.
Public records can also provide useful information about a specific house and its neighboring properties, such as how long the owners have lived there and what they paid for the property.
County and local government websites can provide information about issues that are being discussed in the region and about future development plans.
Old School Methods Work, Too
While apps and websites full of data are helpful, there’s no substitute for visiting neighborhoods in person.
Driving or, better yet, walking in your potential new neighborhood allows you to see first-hand what the homes look like. You’ll see how much energy the community devotes to home maintenance.
You’ll notice if your prospective neighbors are similar in age to you or at a different phase of their lives. Or you may see a mixed group of singles, families and empty-nesters.
It’s smart to visit a neighborhood you like at different times of day and evening, as well as on the weekend and during the week to get a feel for what it would be like to live there. Locate the nearest grocery store and coffee shop and dog park.
Try out your potential commute, and check out the schools if you have kids. Most important: don’t be shy about asking people on the street or in the local café what it’s like to live there, what they love and what they don’t love.
A mix of high-tech searches and some legwork can help you narrow your priorities and find a neighborhood that fits your lifestyle as well as your budget.
What Are Today’s Mortgage Rates?
Current mortgage rates depend on factors like the property you choose, the area in which you buy, and your loan amount. Mortgage lenders must apply the same credit underwriting guidelines without regard to the neighborhood or property location.
If considering an “oddball” community, maybe full of tiny houses or log homes, make sure it’s acceptable to your lender.