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A house can't become a home if its surrounding neighborhood induces more winces than welcomes. Finding the right location for your move is as important as finding the right property.
Separating good from bad neighborhoods is mostly a subjective pursuit. However, most home buyers look for a few basics before choosing a location. Overall safety concerns rank highest, including the area's crime rate. The neighborhood should also offer basic amenities within close range, including grocery stores, police and fire departments and health care facilities. Buyers with children focus heavily on the quality of schools and access to safe recreational areas like parks or playgrounds.
Prospective buyers should also pay attention to traffic in the area, access to public transportation, and proximity to freeways, airports, employment and cultural amenities like museums.
It's also important to protect your investment. Your area plays a huge part in the appreciation of your home. Pay attention to new construction sites in the neighborhood, and research the area to see if it's considered a "hot spot" or "up and coming" for future development.
Of course, statistics can't answer all your needs. The feel and appeal of a neighborhood is as subjective and unique as each homeowner. For some buyers, a quiet, historic neighborhood is the ideal spot. And yet others will need the bustle of street traffic to sleep soundly. Try to balance the prudence of investing with your aesthetics of living.
With the abundance of resources online, you can do most of your preliminary research at home. Realtor.com is a great resource for neighborhood searching. Besides basic real estate info like average household income and school ratings, the site also offers "hipness" stats and "celeb" locations. You can also get a City Profile Report at Homefair.com, which includes location demographics and crime risks.
If you're looking for other amenities in your neighborhood, you can check out either Yahoo! Local or Yelp.com for reviews on just about anything: restaurants, music venues, ice cream parlors, theme parks, etc.
The best way to research a new locale is to get some hands-on experience. If it's possible, plan a reconnaissance trip to the new neighborhood. Walk or drive around at different times of the day and during weekends. Take note of a few things:
General Appearance. Your personal landscaping efforts will be wasted if the neighborhood is an eyesore. Check your neighbors' yards and houses to see if they're well maintained. Also check for any glaring public utilities like water towers or antennae.
Noise Levels. Your new spot could be too close to train lines, an airport or a busy freeway or intersection. Living next to a hospital has its benefits, but ambulance sirens could wear on your patience.
Aroma or Odor. The air could be clean and smell of freshly mown grass. Your home might be close to a bakery. On the other hand, there could be a problem with trash collection services in the area. And you might live downwind from an industrial plant.
Catch a Ride. When walking around your new neighborhood, see how easy it is to catch a bus or a cab. And see how far it is to a local train station. Is the public transportation easy to use and relatively comfortable to ride?
Children at Play. See if children are playing outside without adult supervision. This is a solid signifier that a neighborhood is safe. Of course, too many kids might have a negative effect on an area's noise levels.
Check the Media. Pick up a few local papers to get an idea of the real estate, community and activities surrounding your new spot.
Meet Your Neighbors. If you're feeling congenial, ask people on the street about the surrounding location. What are the drawbacks of the area? What are their favorite shops? Talking with seasoned residents can give you the best idea of an area before you choose to call it home.