How to choose the right neighborhood when buying a home?

aerial view of city during daytime

There is a lot to consider when choosing where to buy a home. You may love the features of one home, but how do you know the location is suitable for your family? This guide includes all the essential factors to consider when choosing a neighborhood for your new home, so you know you’ve found the right spot for your perfect home. 

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What you need to know before you decide where to buy a home

Your real estate agent can be an excellent resource for finding neighborhoods that meet your needs. They likely know your area well, including what types of homes are in specific neighborhoods, the quality of the local school district, and the taxes you’ll pay. 

However, research is crucial to finding the right community for your new home. Start by making a list of what is vital to your family. For example, do you want to be within walking distance of a grocery store or near public transportation? Do you prefer large lots for privacy? Are top-rated schools the most important thing to you? Or a short commute? 

Price can also be a factor when choosing a neighborhood. If your ideal area is outside of your budget, your real estate agent may be able to recommend a similar community in your price range. 

Finally, consider the changing landscape of your preferred neighborhood. Look at news sites and neighborhood chat boards for news about large projects that might impact your opinion. 

For example, a massive revitalization project might turn a neighborhood with low walkability into your dream neighborhood. On the other hand, a large highway project might turn a pedestrian-friendly community into a nightmare. 

Here are the 8 factors to consider when choosing a neighborhood

Finding the right neighborhood can impact your quality of life for years to come. You can always renovate your home but can’t change its location. As you compare areas, keep these 8 factors in mind. 

Property taxes 

A mortgage can be paid off, but property taxes are forever—and they only go up. Check to see what the property taxes are in your preferred neighborhood and compare them to nearby districts. 

Keep in mind that areas with amenities like highly-rated schools, bike paths, and parks may have higher taxes—but you may feel the money is well spent—research where the money goes before deciding whether or not the tax bill is worth it. 

Schools

Even if you don’t have children (or have children already out of the school system), the quality of schools is important when comparing neighborhoods. That’s because even if it doesn’t matter to you, it will count for future buyers when it’s time to sell—which means it can impact resale value. 

Your state’s local education board may share school scores, or you can use tools like the National Center for Education Statistics and GreatSchools.org

Commutes

Most of us spend a good portion of our day at work, so commuting may be one of the most important factors when looking for the right neighborhood. Is your work a hybrid of work-from-home and on-site? Will you return to the office full-time soon, or are you already there? How far are you willing to drive for work? Do you want to use public transportation to get to work? 

Some buyers may want to live close to work, while others are willing to commit to a long commute for lower home prices and more land. Sometimes this depends on the nature of your job, job security, and more. Decide what matters most and make sure your neighborhood fits your preferences. 

Protip: Check Google Maps or another online map during rush hour to see how long your commute might really be. Traffic can add quite a bit of time 

Amenities

What type of businesses and amenities do you want nearby? Some home buyers might prefer to have plenty of land and don’t mind driving several miles for groceries or dinner, while others like being close to nightlife and dining options. 

When looking at a neighborhood, consider what amenities are important to you, such as: 

  • Coffee shops
  • Grocery stores
  • Entertainment
  • Bars/restaurants
  • Parks 
  • Bike trails 
  • Gym or workout spots 
  • Access to water, such as a pool or lake 

In addition to businesses, consider utilities as well. For example, does the neighborhood offer fiber internet? Do you have the option for solar power, electric car charging stations, gas heat, or other utilities? 

One type of utility you may not think about is whether or not your home on that perfect idyllic, rural plot is on a septic system or attached to a sewer. Many contemporary septic systems won’t limit you more than a sewer system, but different septic systems are built for specific situations and living conditions. 

Ask your realtor if your neighborhood is attached to a sewer system or if your house would need a septic system. 

white and brown house near green grass field under white clouds and blue sky during daytime
Sidewalks make a neighborhood safe to walk through and can raise the value of your home and your overall quality of life

Walkability 

If walkability is important to you, there are several features to look for. Does your neighborhood have well-maintained sidewalks? Are there street lights to make walking in the evening safer? Other signs of good walkability include roundabouts to slow down car traffic, well-marked crosswalks, trees near sidewalks for shade, and benches or picnic tables in common areas. 

In addition to looking for signs of walkability, check out the Walk Score website. The site lists the number of residents, bike score, and public transportation score. Read our article on how the Walk Score is calculated

Crime and safety

How safe you feel in your home can be more important than features. When touring neighborhoods, look for obvious signs of safety such as well-lit streets, visible pedestrian traffic, local events, and kids playing outside. These signs indicate that community members feel safe in the neighborhood. 

You can also check crime rates on sites like SpotCrime. NextDoor is another excellent source for finding more information about a neighborhood you’re considering. Residents post about community events, missing pets, crime, etc. Reading posts can provide insights into living in the area. 

Types of homes

The type of home you want to purchase impacts the neighborhood you choose as well. Some communities feature more of one kind of home over another, depending on when the community was developed or if one developer planned it.

Some neighborhoods are planned developments with all new construction. Some are older suburbs with a selection of pre-war bungalows. 

If you’re looking for a 3,000-square foot mid-century home, your options may be more limited. Additionally, they may only be available in specific neighborhoods if you’re hoping to buy a two or three-flat property. 

To find out if the type of home you want is available in a neighborhood, ask your real estate agent and take a few minutes to drive around. You should quickly see if the area has the homes you prefer. 

Long-term value

Thinking about selling your home while still in the process of buying might seem counter-intuitive. In reality, most buyers don’t stay in the same home forever. According to the National Association of Realtors, the average homeowner stays in a home for 13 years

There’s a good chance your home is the most expensive purchase you’ll ever make—so it’s essential to make sure it’s a good investment by determining what the resale value may be down the road. 

Several factors can impact the long-term value of a home, including: 

  • Age and condition of the home 
  • Lot size 
  • Usable space (such as finished versus unfinished basement or attic) 
  • Neighborhood 
  • Public school ratings 
  • Parking 
  • Local taxes 
  • Location, such as whether it’s near water (may increase value) or a landfill (may decrease value) 

While some factors like the condition of the roof or kitchen are in your control, location and taxes are not. Make sure to consider those factors when buying a home. 

How do I scout a neighborhood before buying a house? 

The most obvious way to scout a neighborhood is to spend an hour or so driving or walking around. This will give you a decent idea of how long the drive or walk will take to your local high school or grocery store or whether people actually use that brand-new bike lane. 

However, a quick drive only provides insights into the neighborhood at that specific time—which might not be a fair representation. Here are a few other tips for scouting out your area: 

  • Join online neighborhood groups on Facebook or NextDoor to get to know your possible neighbors. 
  • Drive around the neighborhood at night. Do the streetlights work? Are families walking around after dark? These are indications the neighborhood is safe. 
  • Visit several parks or other outdoor spaces and spend a few hours there. This will help you see how well-used public spaces are. 
  • Grab dinner or coffee at local cafes or restaurants where you can talk to locals. 

If possible, book a hotel for a night or two to see how it feels to live in the neighborhood. 

Scouting the right neighborhood to buy a home
Your future neighborhood should be walkable, safe, and valuable in the long-term

Choosing the best neighborhood for you and your family

Finding an excellent neighborhood to live in is a crucial part of the homebuying process. Start by talking to local friends and family or asking your real estate agent for recommendations. Take the time to tour neighborhoods before putting in an offer on a home. 

Remember, you can always tear out carpet or paint walls, but you can’t change the neighborhood—so make sure to choose the right location for your family. 

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