Before you buy a home and make what’s likely to be one of the biggest investments of your life, you owe it to yourself to get good information on your new neighborhood. Getting a deal on the home of your dreams can quickly turn sour if the neighborhood doesn’t meet your expectations. Here’s how to research a neighborhood before you buy a home.
Look into the Crime Rates
In addition to the U.S. Census Bureau’s city profiles that list crime statistics, you can try sites like CrimeReports.com, which offers local maps where you can access crime data in near-real time (the site has partnerships with more than 1,000 law enforcement agencies). You might also visit the local police department to ask about crime statistics and reports or sex offender registries and to find out what neighborhood watches or alerts are in operation. You can also try services like Family Watchdog for alerts about sex offenders in the neighborhood.
Walk the Neighborhood
Visit the neighborhood at various times of day, and on different days. The nature of a neighborhood changes from day to night, and from weekday to weekend. Make sure the activity and noise levels are to your liking. If you see residents out doing yardwork or walking their dog, ask how they like the neighborhood and tell them you’re considering buying in the area. Sometimes that “insider” feedback can give you the real sense of a neighborhood.
Review Municipality and Public Services
It can be easy to focus on the condition of your prospective home, but you should also consider the general condition of the streets, sidewalks and parks in your new neighborhood. Take some time to research your new municipality (start with the official website) and the services offered. Don’t be afraid to call and ask questions at your local clerk’s office if you can’t find answers on the website. Things like trash collection, street cleaning and general public maintenance can affect your property’s value over time, especially if these services suffer a sharp decline due to budget cuts.
Check School Report Cards
Even if you don’t have children, you should spend some time investigating the area schools (school districts are typically the largest beneficiaries of your property taxes). The reason for this is simple. Good schools tend to attract a higher demand for homes, which can affect the value of surrounding properties. One way to research schools in your new neighborhood is to visit GreatSchools, a non-profit national organization, where you can find information on everything from local preschools to colleges.
When you’re in the market for a new home, it can be easy to get distracted by what lies within the walls. But by following these home buying tips, you’ll be much better prepared to make an informed decision about your new neighborhood. That way, a sweet deal is less likely to turn sour.