Nobody wants to be surprised after buying a home to learn that the train nearby is super loud every morning or the neighborhood has a funny smell from a peculiar business around the corner. If you hope to live in your new home for many years to come, you want to be sure you know what you’re getting into. Fortunately, there are a few useful ways you can learn about your neighborhood so you’re fully informed before you take the plunge and buy property there.
In-Person Neighborhood Research
If you can get out to the neighborhood in person, you’ll learn a lot more about how it looks and feels on the ground than you will online.
1. Go for a long walk (or a few).
This is the best way to get a feel for the neighborhood you may soon call home. Taking a few long walks in a neighborhood can accomplish a lot of important things all at once:
- You’ll see how often people in the neighborhood are out and about. Kids playing, people walking dogs, and athletes running and biking in the area all suggest the people currently living there feel comfortable amongst their neighbors. And if you’re a runner or biker yourself, you’ll get a feel for the available routes and paths you can take.
- It gives you the chance to talk to people that already live there. You can ask how they feel about living there, what they like about it, and if there are any warnings they’d give to someone considering buying there.
- You can look out for all those little problems that are hard to notice when you visit a neighborhood briefly to check out a house – loud noises, dogs running around off leash, broken glass on the sidewalks, weird smells. These things don’t necessarily make or break a neighborhood and aren’t the kinds of things a real estate agent will mention, but they may make a difference to how you feel about living there.
Ideally, you should try taking a few different routes on your walks around the neighborhood and go at different times of day. It takes time, but the amount of valuable information you’ll get from it is well worth it before making a decision this big.
2. Test out your commute.
If you already live in the city where you’re house hunting and you know where you’ll be working, then this is an important step to understand what your day-to-day quality of life will be like living in that neighborhood. Just routing your trip to work on Google Maps won’t be nearly as informative as getting out there and experiencing it yourself at the time of day you typically go to work. If you drive, you’ll get a feel for how people drive in the neighborhood, the long lights to be aware of, and school zones you’ll have to slow down for. And have you ever heard you should live east of where you work? That’s worth considering if you drive to work facing the sunrise and home facing the sunset and want to avoid the dangers often associated with driving directing into the light.
If you take public transit, you can learn if everything usually runs on time, how crowded it gets, and whether or not you can count getting a seat so you can read or work on your ride.
Online Neighborhood Research
If you’re doing your neighborhood research from afar and heading to your neighborhood for in-person trips isn’t practical, you still have some options.
3. Check for neighborhood publications or social media groups.
Do some sleuthing via Google to see if your potential neighborhood has a print publication. They’ll provide stories on things like local events and upcoming construction projects that will give you a sense of the neighborhood.
In addition, search Groups on Facebook to see if there’s a neighborhood group for the area. If there is, this is a great space to see what actual residents have to say about their experiences living there. You can even ask questions directly of current residents to get honest answers about the neighborhood, including things you can’t find anywhere else like how well internet works there.
4. Check the neighborhood bus routes and walkability.
Even without being able to visit on the ground, you can still to find out a little about what it’s like to move around the neighborhood. Walk Score provides information on how easy a neighborhood is to get around in by walking, bike, and public transit.
If you’re hoping not to be entirely dependent on a car (or even if you just want the option to leave it behind some of the time), the site’s a good way to find out if that’s a feasible option in the neighborhood you’re eyeing.
5. Search sites with neighborhood-level information.
There are a lot of websites devoted to providing information on neighborhoods and the businesses you’re likely to find within in them. Here are a few good ones to check out.
- Neighborhood Scout – This is the most comprehensive resource for neighborhood information, including demographic and crime data, school reports, trends and forecasts, and real estate information. (It does require a subscription fee for full access.).
- Your preferred weather app – Make sure you’re aware of the climate of your new neighborhood – especially if you’re moving from far away. You’ll want to make sure your new home is properly insured against floods, fires, or whatever is local to your region. You’ll also want to look into things like local allergens to make sure the environment is a good fit for you.
- Street Advisor – A customer review site that collects reviews of neighborhoods.
Finding the right neighborhood is as important as finding the right home. Some advance research will help you make sure you make the right choice.