Where you buy a home is almost as important as the home itself. That’s why we’ve compiled a step-by-step guide to help you find the right neighborhood before you start looking for your dream home.
Take Advantage of Online Resources
Start your search for the right neighborhood online. A few good places to start include our lists of the top 10 cities for empty nesters, the 10 best cities for raising a family, and the 10 best cities for business graduates.
If you already know where you want to move, start at NeighborhoodScout. Although basic information is free, you can subscribe for more detailed reports on crime, schools, and more.
Street Advisor is a similar free service that includes reviews of neighborhoods written by the people who live there. You can also find online neighborhood guides at Airbnb and local real estate agents’ websites.
Visit at Different Times
The neighborhood you think you’re moving into could be something completely different in the evenings and on weekends. Visit at different times to see what the neighborhood is really like.
You may learn that every weekend, parents park their cars in front of your house while their child’s sports team practices nearby, or you may find that you have to fight traffic to get into your subdivision during rush hour. These are good things to know before you move.
Once you know where you want to live, make sure you can afford it. The Living Wage Calculator can give you an overview of expenses such as food, transportation, and child care based on your location.
To compare your current cost of living to other areas, check out CNN’s Cost of Living Calculator. The calculator shows how much money it takes to live a comparable lifestyle in another city and the difference in prices for groceries, utilities, and more.
Keep in mind that state taxes can also take a big bite out of your income. Find out what the sales tax and income tax rates are before you move to a different state.
Research the Schools
Good schools are a priority if you have children. For general information, including student/teacher ratios and enrollment statistics, go to the National Center for Education Statistics website. You can get a more detailed look at local schools at Greatschools.org, where you’ll find parent and student reviews. The website also “grades” schools based on how well students perform.
After you’ve done your online research, schedule a tour of the schools you’re considering. Some schools will put you in contact with other parents who can answer any additional questions you may have.
Consider Your Commute
It doesn’t matter how much you love your new home if you can’t get to where you need to go without pulling your hair out. Before you commit to an area, use an online map, like Google Maps, to check real-time traffic flow along your commute during peak hours. Most online maps will also have an option that shows public transit routes, including stops.
If you’d rather walk where you’re going, visit WalkScore.com. The website rates communities’ walkability based on a score up to 100. You’ll also find a bike score there as well as information on public transportation.
Get the Lowdown on Crime Statistics
Nobody wants to live in an area where there’s rampant crime. The easiest way to learn about crime in your area is to visit CrimeReports.com, where you’ll see the number and types of crimes committed, as well as the locations of registered sex offenders. You can also use Safewise’s Safest Cities in America report to narrow down your neighborhood.
When you know where you’re moving, you can stop by the local police station to discuss any specific concerns you have.
Although it seems like a lot of work, taking the time to find the right neighborhood is definitely worth the effort. Invest the time up front to learn about the surrounding area, schools, cost of living, traffic, and crime to make sure you love your new location.