5 big mistakes to avoid when choosing a neighborhood
So you've found your dream home — but what about the community around it? If you make one of these common blunders, that home may not be so great after all.
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Buyers spend months combing through real-estate listing sites looking for that perfect home: the dwelling that fits their budget and their dreams of a better lifestyle.
But how much time do they spend looking at the area around it? Not nearly enough, says Andrew Schiller, founder and CEO of NeighborhoodScout.
"Most people focus on the house … and only secondarily look at the neighborhood. It should actually be the reverse," Schiller says.
You can have a glorious house, Schiller says, but you will find your lifestyle suffering if the neighborhood isn't a good fit. The people, amenities, schools and a host of other factors are what help determine whether you're living the American dream or just living.
Here are the five biggest mistakes people make in choosing a neighborhood, as well as some tips on scoping out your next community.
- Tell us on Facebook: What's more important to you when buying a home: a house or its neighborhood?
1. They think short-term.
Often, moves happen because people are in a transition of some sort — divorcing, downsizing or getting ready to start a family, says Deena Willis, associate broker/owner of Re/Max Property Concierge in South Pasadena, Calif. Although their circumstances are changing rapidly, she says, people tend to buy from their old mindset and not think about how their life is changing.
"They are conflicted and may still want to be very urban when a sidewalk neighborhood with kiddies all around would suit their new lifestyle much better," Willis says. That amazing hillside view home might not look so appealing after you've lugged a couple of giant boxes of diapers up the stairs, she says.
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Similarly, people moving after divorce or the death of a spouse may look for a safe suburban area and fail to consider the risk of social isolation in a neighborhood without nearby amenities such as coffee shops, bookstores and restaurants, Schiller says.
"People often think they are more 'Leave it to Beaver' than they really are," he says.
Solution: Get advice tailored to your situation.
Most people start their neighborhood research by talking to friends and co-workers. Although it's helpful to solicit advice or suggestions on neighborhoods, consider the source, says Diann Patton, Coldwell Banker's consumer real-estate specialist.
That friend without kids might not have a good grasp of the schools or children's activities in his neighborhood and think it's a fine place to raise a family. Likewise, that co-worker with young children might not have a good handle on the arts scene and places for young professionals to mingle after work. Talk to someone who's in your situation — or the situation in which you will soon find yourself.
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Do your own online research. Schiller's website, NeighborhoodScout, allows you to find communities by lifestyle, such as "young families," "hip and trendy," "Spanish-speaking neighborhoods" or "young singles, upwardly mobile."
Greatschools.org lets you see how students at the neighborhood schools fared on standardized tests.
City-data.com allows you to search cities by demographics such as age, median income and education levels, as well as a whole host of other factors.
2. They assume and don't verify.
People often move into areas that they hear have low crime rates, good schools and low taxes, etc., without bothering to verify these facts themselves or see for themselves.
They don't check with that sterling school district to see if a subdivision or community falls within its boundaries, which can cut across city lines, Willis says.
Likewise, they don't independently verify that a certain neighborhood is outside of proposed freeway construction, flood plain or landslide areas. They don't check records to see if an area is really low in all types of crime and free of special taxes or restrictions.
Then, when construction begins, their car is vandalized or they receive a tax bill they weren't prepared for, they're up in arms.
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Solution: Don't assume. Get it in writing.
Make sure your agent knows your needs and concerns. Have her check county and transportation-department records and get key documents about community restrictions and financial standing.
Check out crime statistics and talk to local police about recent trends in crime in that area, agents say.
And if you want to know what a "good school" looks like in the area, go out and visit one, take a tour and talk to its principal, says Todd Hetherington, CEO of Century 21 New Millennium in the Washington, D.C., metro area. You may find the school overrated.
3. They underestimate or ignore the commute.
Sure, that neighborhood with the tree-lined streets and charming Victorian houses looks great. But how much will you get to soak up this ambience if you're leaving the house at the crack of dawn and coming home late?
And how much money will you have left over to spend on the weekend if the gas pump is draining your wallet?
- On our blog, 'Listed': Homebuyers stress commute times, agents say
While some people buy into a bad commute simply because they adore a neighborhood, others do it unknowingly, agents say. They come to look at a house in the middle of the day and think, "This drive isn't so far." Then, when they move in and make the drive at rush hour, it turns out to take twice as long.
- MSN Health: What's the average commute time in your area?
Solution: Try out the commute at rush hour.
Drive to your work at the same time you would in the morning and drive back when your workday ends. How long did it take you? If it's approaching an hour, you may want to reconsider. According a recent study by Umea University in Sweden, couples with one partner who commutes longer than 45 minutes are 40% more likely to divorce. Don't risk it.
"remember that a house on the market for over 60 days has PROBLEMS that extend further than a soft economy. Good homes in great locations are still bought and sold in short time."GreekWaiting, what planet did you recently arrive from. In today's economy, that comment is patently absurd. Where are you from anyway? Banks aren't lending, and buyers want something for nothing. And if you're worried about the neighborhood, just keep lowering the price until "there goes the neighborhood!" There are plenty of good homes in great neighborhoods that aren't selling in a short time.
We took 11 months to find out first house. We had to be sure that we were comfortable there for a long time because in this buyers' market to unload a house is a losing proposition for short-term homeowners. We had to turn down houses we liked for some seemingly superficial reasons that we're sure would've been bigger issues in the long -run:
- cottonwood tree in next-door neighbor's yard. Fortunately it was blooming during the time we went to see the house and the cotton was ALL OVER the neighboring backyards, like snow. We pictured trying to have a cocktail with cotton in it or grilling steaks with cotton stuck to them. Or try to get your neighbor to take the tree down and see how quickly you make an enemy. Pass.
- loudly yappy dog directly across the street. We went to this house several different days and times just to make sure, and each time the dog was ouside, barking at EVERYTHING (people, cars, leaves). The owner once came out and ... yelled at the dog to "shut up!!!!". PASS.
- a large retail and restaurant construction project in the works several streets away. At first this seemed like it would be a great boost to home values if and when completed, however, in this economy that was a pretty big IF. Sure enough, three years later, it's still a huge pile of dirt and rocks - project abandoned - ugly site BAD for home values!!
- Coming home from another house visit, got stuck behind a train coming through railroad tracks. Stood there for 7 minutes. PASS
- Trying to make a "rush hour" trip from a house to work, stood at an intersection on a relatively small street, unable to turn due to the ridiculously high amount of traffic - could have NEVER predicted how much traffic this street had.
"Check out crime statistics and talk to local police about recent trends in crime in that area, agents say."
-really, are you serious...
The last two houses I lived in where both next to barking dogs. It's one of the reasons I moved to the country, where I can see my neighbors and not hear them.
I remember a friend at work talking about his neighbor's dog and what he should do about it pooping on his lawn regularly. Another coworker thought he should put up a fence! Apparently she thought the pooping dog owner had no responsibility to keep their animal on their own property. This same coworker thought everyone else should put up with barking dogs and if it bothered you, you should be the one to move. After all, as she put it, "Dogs bark."
Hard to argue with that level of irresponsibility. When I tried, the coworker looked at me like I was insane. She honestly didn't understand why this was a problem.
This is a great article. However, in the real world, as a regular joe, you're going to buy whatever fits your wallet. Sure some hoods are worse than others, but none are perfect. You are going to have to compromise one way or another. Only exceptions are those who have the financial means to buy beyond the foolish and naive notions of neighborhoods and work.
Good story, very neutral. I don't that anyone is a good neighborhood "match" for a noisy, car-filled street with barking dogs, not to mention the people whose homes are apparently so hot inside that they must leave their doors and windows open 24 hours a day. I made the mistake of buying a pretty home and property in the wrong place, and learned that you can only change your address, you cannot change the lousy neighbors who think that loud arguments are normal or use "party" as a verb. Be careful, and remember that a house on the market for over 60 days has PROBLEMS that extend further than a soft economy. Good homes in great locations are still bought and sold in short time. Check the house's environment at NIGHT and good luck to you. Only noise offenders would vote against this posting! Live well!