Five Ways You Can Research Neighborhoods During Your Home Search

by J.R.January 21, 2019

Buying a home is an exercise in finding the intersection between value and location. You want a home that’s within your price range and meets your needs in terms of size and features. At the same time, you don’t want your dream home to be in a neighborhood that doesn’t meet your expectations.

Home Sweet Home

As such, it’s just as important to research the neighborhood in which you find your home as it is to research its price history, comps, and other dollar data. Here are five different tips for researching your prospective neighborhood:

1. Stay in an Airbnb in the Area

You can’t really get to know a neighborhood until you live there, right? While living on the street where your dream home sits isn’t usually an option before you buy, getting an Airbnb in the neighborhood is pretty much the next best thing in terms of personal experience.

Melissa Mesku, a freelance software engineer and writer, said she used this method when she was deciding on a place to live in New York City.

“I stayed in ten different places when choosing where to live in NYC and it helped me decide like nothing else. For some reason, I have never seen this proffered as advice for people looking to relocate,” Mesku told us.

2. Consider How Homeowners and the City Treat Your Neighborhood

We tend to focus on the other homes in our prospective neighborhood, using things like the condition of neighbors’ lawns and gardens to judge worthiness. Limiting yourself to these bits visual information is a limited way of interpreting the overall health of an area, said Mike Arman, economic development director for the City of Oak Hill, Florida.

Arman encourages future homeowners to take the neighborhood in the context of the individual homeowners as well as the town, city or county’s civic leadership.

“Look at the condition of the city streets and infrastructure, like parks, street signs and more. Attend a couple of city commission meetings to see if the city is concerned about the citizens or is simply aggrandizing themselves,” Arman said.

He also recommended taking a look at the city’s budget to see if they’re in debt or have breathing room, too, as both the situations can affect the living conditions in your area.

3. Drive Through the Neighborhood During the Day and the Evening

Adding a home search to our daily schedule of tasks and responsibilities can be overwhelming. So, when you consider checking out a neighborhood during the day but you don’t have the time, you may just default to a Google Maps Street View of the property.

Unfortunately, not every Street View image of a home or neighborhood is up-to-date. With this in mind, it’s crucial to drive through the neighborhood yourself outside of the open house you plan to attend.

“Since you are planning to live in this neighborhood in the long run, you have to make sure that it suits your needs and expectations fully. In addition to reading about the area and analyzing real estate market trends as well as other factors there, you should visit the neighborhood during different days of the week and different times of the day,” said Daniela Andreevska, marketing director at real-estate investment site Mashvisor.

She points out that a neighborhood that’s quite during the day could be busy at night. So, take time to drive through during daylight hours and in the evening. Homeowners who plan to have outdoor spaces in their new home may not want added ambient noise.

Suburb Neighborhood

4. Talk With Neighbors Near Your Prospective Home

City records, real estate agents and various message boards can tell you only so much about the neighborhood in which you want to live. The people who actually live in the area are the true experts. If they’re willing to talk with you, they could be an invaluable resource, said Cory Vandenberg, a mortgage banker in Lafayette, Indiana. Vandenberg said one of his clients used this method during their home search and dug up some interesting information.

“Ask your future prospective neighbors about the history of the home and what they think of the neighborhood. This saved one of my clients from a real money pit,” he said. “The neighbor said families get sick and move every two years. He suspected mold. My client was very thankful he took the time out to ask.”

I did this same thing inadvertently around two years ago when my wife and I were home shopping. I was checking out a home and, as I walked around the property, a neighbor emerged from the bushes dividing the lots.

I talked with him and found out the former tenants were druggies and that the mother died in the home of an overdose. The son up and left one day — he walked down the road and never returned. Bullet dodged.

5. Ask Your Realtor for Resources

While real estate agents aren’t always experts in a particular neighborhood, they are experts in sourcing information quickly. Therefore, they most likely have a set of online tools they like to use to research neighborhoods on behalf of their clients.

Tara Meier, a Realtor with North & Co. in Maricopa, Arizona, said you should always ask your Realtor for research tools that provide solid data on which you can make a decision.

“While it could be a housing violation for a Realtor to give any sort of ‘opinion’ on a neighborhood, your agent can provide valuable tools and insight on where to find impartial data relating to demographics, income levels, levels of education, etc.,” she said.

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About The Author
J.R.
J.R. is a reporter for HighYa.com, uncovers the hard truths about personal finance through in-depth research and interviews with experts. He has written extensively on topics including credit cards, credit scores, debt, financial advisors, and other personal finance issues.