When you’re looking at houses online, it’s all about the aesthetics and the house. Is the roof new? How big is the backyard? Does the whole house need repainted? Are the bedrooms big enough?
Initially, your biggest concern is the house and not necessarily the neighborhood. However, when it’s time to actually tour homes, it’s a smart idea to take the neighborhood and area into consideration.
For instance, many people will tell you not to buy the most expensive house in the neighborhood. If your house’s price is well above others nearby, it’s much harder to sell it later. If you’re looking for a project and decide to buy a fixer-upper, be sure that the updates you want to do to the house will make it comparable in price to other houses in the neighborhood.
There are three other things to think about when choosing your ideal neighborhood: commute, cost, and enjoyability.
If you consider anything about the neighborhood your future home is in, it will probably be the commute. If you find your dream home but it adds an hour to your commute to work – is it really your dream home? Here are a few things to plug into Google Maps before you seriously consider buying a house:
Work: How long does it take to get to work for everyone in your household?
School: How far is your child’s school? Is the house on the school’s bus route or will they need to find another way to get there?
Grocery: Are there grocery stores nearby? If so, are they your preferred stores? Remember, buying groceries happens once or twice a week for the average family – it will likely become a huge chore to drive way out of your way.
Activities: Are you or your family involved in any activities, sports, or out-of-the-house hobbies? Make sure the neighborhood you choose isn’t too far away.
Restaurants: While many families will travel to go out to a nice dinner, if you are too far away from all your favorite restaurants, you may find yourself eating out less. Also consider any fast food restaurants in the area for those crazy weekdays when you have no time.
Hospitals: No one likes to think about emergencies, but it’s important to look into the local hospitals, urgent care centers, and fire stations. Are they near enough that you feel confident in times of an emergency?
Highway Access: Your local area becomes much larger if you have nearby access to the highway. The entire city could open up to you. If there aren’t any nearby restaurants, activities or grocery stores, it’s best to have nearby highway access so that these locations don’t become unreachable to you.
Public Transport: If your city has a prolific public transportation system, is your potential home’s neighborhood close enough to a public stop? If not, will Uber or Lyft drive out to your home?
Not many people think about the difference in costs when it comes to neighborhoods. Your new home may be well within your price range, but there are many extra costs associated with living in certain areas. Take some of these into consideration and decide whether your dream home is really within your budget.
Association Dues: Probably the most obvious cost is your association dues. These are typically paid yearly and can range from $0 to several thousand. These are also called homeowner’s association fees (HOA fees) and cover the cost of several services. These can include snow removal, swimming pools, fitness centers, meeting centers, guards for gated communities, and parks.
Property Taxes: Every home will have property taxes. These are typically due twice a year and are paid via your escrow account. You will be paying into your escrow account every month through your mortgage payment. Typically, the higher the relative socioeconomic status of the neighborhood, the higher the property taxes.
Home Values: As I explained at the beginning of the article, home values within a neighborhood matter. Make sure the home you purchase will still be sellable after several years of upgrade and updates you make to it.
Commute: Although I talked about commute earlier, the cost of your commute is also important. How much does it cost in gas and maintenance to handle your commute every day? How costly is public transportation in the area?
Likely the least considered of these three topics is the neighborhood’s enjoyability. It’s important to think about whether you will like living in a certain area or not. The commute may be great and the costs may be manageable, but if the neighborhood is boring or restrictive, your new home may not be the best match for you.
Nearby Parks: Are there any parks nearby? What about walking or biking trails? If you and your family enjoy a bit out outdoors time, look into what your options are within your neighborhood.
Walkability: We have a blog post on this, but how easy is it to get around on foot? Can you trade your car for a pair of sneakers or a bicycle when going to a restaurant, movie, or other activity? A great resource is walkscore.com. Plug in your neighborhood and find out what score it gets.
House Uniqueness: If you’re looking for homes with character, taking a stroll (either physically or virtually) of your future neighborhood is a good idea. Do all the houses look the same, or are they each different? Are you going to have trouble the first few weeks of knowing which house actually belongs to you?
Neighborhood Privacy: Does your future home have a privacy fence? Is it super close to your neighbor’s house? What about the neighborhood itself? Is it gated, does it have plenty of trees, do you feel comfortable walking down the sidewalks? Find out what level of privacy your future neighborhood offers and decide whether it matches your needs.
School Ratings: If you have a family to consider, it’s important to look into school ratings in the area. Of course, these ratings do change every year, and it’s likely that by the time your infant is ready for high school, the ratings for the schools in the area could be completely different. However, if you have school aged children now, look into the ratings for the school your children will attend.
Neighborhood Culture: This isn’t always easy to find out, but you can learn a lot by taking a walk in the neighborhood before you purchase a home. Are the neighbors friendly? Can you depend on your neighbors to help you out in case you need a cup of sugar, an extra set of hands, or an emergency babysitter? Consider whether the residents of the neighborhood take notice of you, introduce themselves, or steer clear. It can tell you a lot about the neighborhood culture.
When looking for your next home, don’t forget that the house is just the start. The neighborhood and area you choose are just as important! Download and print our Ideal Neighborhood Checklist to take with you on your home tours. Compare and contrast the neighborhoods of your top house choices.