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How to Thoroughly Check Out a Neighborhood Before Buying a Home

How to Thoroughly Check Out a Neighborhood Before Buying a Home

Setting out to find your dream home is about much more than just the house—you need to figure out how to find the perfect neighborhood for your family. Experts share what you should consider before handing over a down payment.


At the beginning of the home-buying process, there are surely 100 different factors swirling around your head that will determine on which house you put an offer. One of the most important things to consider before starting the house hunt? Finding the right neighborhood for your family. After all, you can’t easily change things about the neighborhood, but you can easily renovate a less-than-perfect house. The answer to that mystery is completely individual for your family, as your check list of ‘must haves,’ things that ‘would be nice,’ and those that are ‘not a deal-breaker’ will be different from your friends. Read on for a little help from the experts for finding the right neighborhood for your family.

Visit at varying times.

You should always consider the time of day and time of year you visit a neighborhood, which can vary depending on the nature of the location. For example, if the house you’re interested in is near a school, visit during drop-off and pick-up times to see how busy it gets, suggests Melanie Kalmaer Lichaa, CBR, BFA, MA, M.Ed., licensed salesperson at Berkshire Hathaway Laffey International Realty.

“If you’re near a highway or busy street with a double yellow line, you should go at various times throughout the day to determine which is the busiest,” she says. “Visiting during the weekend is also beneficial to see if it’s a family neighborhood where people walk around and ride bikes or if it’s really quiet and a lot of people don’t come out.”

 

Pay attention to the neighborhood vibe.

In addition to visiting the area at different times, spend time exploring the neighborhood and chatting with others who live there, recommends Alison Bernstein, founder and CEO of The Suburban Jungle, a real estate and lifestyle advisory firm focused on buyers leaving the city for the suburbs. “What if the whole town goes to Nantucket over the summer, but you pictured yourself having barbecues with your neighbors?” she poses.

When you’re visiting the neighborhood, consider the characteristics that are important to your family. If you are looking for a neighborhood where your family can safely ride bikes in the streets or go for a walk with the stroller, do these things when visiting. Go for a walk after school when kids would normally be riding scooters to their friends’ houses or playing hockey in the street. Talk to the parents walking by and get the story from the people who know it best.

"It’s very important to look in between the data points because that’s where the real story of the town exists,” Bernstein says. “Feel out what people are doing on the weekends, how involved they are in the school systems, and so on.”

“I bought my house seven years ago solely because of the block it was on! I absolutely hated the house itself,” says Ellie Makris, an East Williston resident and mother of two boys. “We knocked it down and built new, and throughout the difficulties with construction I would not change a thing. My son gets to ride his bike down the street as I walk next to him with the stroller, and we know that our neighbors will slow down when they pass in their cars.”

If you want a little extra help when finding the perfect neighborhood for your family, a buyer’s representative can point you in the right direction. Buyer’s representatives obtain specialized information, programs, and updates that can help you best determine what neighborhood you’re looking for, according to the Association of Realtors. The Suburban Jungle also aims to convey the overall vibe and culture of a neighborhood by partnering with local agents who can explore the area for you.

 

Know where to access statistics.

Everyone’s definition of what makes a town safe varies, and if you’re a numbers person who feels more secure making decisions based on proven statistics, there are various online resources that can help give you peace of mind. Multiple Listing Service, a network of real estate offices in Nassau and Suffolk counties as well as Queens and Brooklyn, provides a variety of information about neighborhoods including community and school information, housing statistics, and news, plus other resources for those looking to buy. Searching a neighborhood in the Community and School Info section of the website will turn up visual statistics measuring quality of life such as commute time, property and violent crime risks, air quality, physicians per capita, environment, schools, economy, people, and housing.

Another resource that measures the livability of a neighborhood is Total Home Score. It aims to make the things that may be less obvious a little more transparent, so you can determine which parts of the home search are a priority to you, including Road Safety, Quiet, Traffic, and Entertainment scores.

Know what “a good school” means to you.

While you can read which school is deemed ‘better’ in terms of test scores, what are the factors that define a good school to you? Do you have a child who requires special education services? Or, perhaps, your child is gifted and talented. Will your child need an Individualized Education Plan? Does she need extra help in math?

“I always recommend parents call up and speak to the head of their child’s grade level for the upcoming year to ask these sorts of questions,” says Lichaa, who is a mom of two and a former educator. “Different districts have different ways of analyzing a child and their grade readiness when they enter the district.”

“Read between the lines and determine what a great school system means to you,” Bernstein suggests. “Do I want my child in a class of 2,000 or a class of 60, and what are the pros and cons of each? Do I want a district where everyone is type A and has tutors and is gunning for the [Ivy League], or do I want a more laid-back environment?”

While you’re getting the answers to these important questions, it’s also a good idea to find out about transportation within that district. Some districts have rules that children who live less than a mile from the school will not receive transportation, according to Lichaa. And don’t be afraid to ask questions about the other, more personal things that are important to you and your family. For example, if your child is a swimmer, find out if the school has a swim team. If the school doesn’t have a swim team but checks all of your other boxes, see if there is a local Y, JCC, or Boys and Girls Club with a team that is accessible to your family.

"I had a buyer whose daughter was very into gymnastics and cheerleading, so they ended up in a district with gymnastic facilities,” Lichaa says.

Ultimately, what makes a neighborhood “the right neighborhood” for you and your family may be the one with the highest scoring school district. It also could be the one with a little league team that practices within walking distance of your home. As long as you know what you and your family need to be happy, learning to love a new neighborhood will be as easy as learning to hate the parking restrictions in your old one. 

 

 


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Melissa Wickes

Author: Melissa Wickes is a graduate of Binghamton University and the NYU Summer Publishing Institute. She's written hundreds of articles to help New York parents make better decisions for their families. When she's not writing, you can find her eating pasta, playing guitar, or watching reality TV. See More

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