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American Homeowners Association



Know the Neighborhood Before You Buy

Location, location, location... is the Realtor's mantra. Neighborhoods greatly affect quality of life, which in turn affects price and your future resale value. A perfectly appointed home is a perfectly pointless investment if it's located in an inferior school district, with poor access to shopping or other amenities. Use this checklist to research neighborhoods, then decide how much you are willing to spend to buy into the best ones.

1 - Proximity to job centers, shopping, and public transportation. Determine what kind of commute is acceptable to you. Closer-in homes are typically priced higher. The trade-off for a longer commute, however, is lower prices and potentially larger homes for your dollar. Prices in the outer suburbs and rural areas are generally lower. If you can't stand a longer commute, however, consider buying a close-in townhouse or condominium instead of a detached home.

2 - Traffic. How much time will you spend in it? This is a major factor in major metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles, New York and the Washington, DC area. It affects your commuting time as well as your spare time performing errands or having fun. The last thing you want to encounter on your way to the park is gridlock.

3 - Quality of schools. The quality of local schools will be a factor in your investment, even if you don't have children. Apart from the school district's general reputation, some of the factors to consider are overcrowding class size and teacher-to-student ratios which some say directly affects quality of education. Overcrowding problems also signal other problems. It means that local government didn't plan properly for population increases. See # 4.

4 - Local taxes and fees. Check out local property tax rates. Are property taxes reasonable compared to other jurisdictions? The local chamber of commerce tracks this kind of information. Look out for communities that face school overcrowding caused by rapid population growth, or a shortfall in other services such as sewage treatment. That usually means your fees or taxes will be hiked.

5 - Crime. Nothing affects your peace of mind or quality of life more than your family's safety and security. Crime, or the perception of it, does more to sap a neighborhood's vitality and property values than any other factor. The National Association of Realtors maintains a web site that compares the crime rates in over 500 cities. See the Relocation Crime Lab at But remember that crime varies from neighborhood to neighborhood.

6 - Luxury zip codes and overall property values. Have prices remained steady or risen in the area, or fallen? Buying into an affluent or elite community has more significance than whether a Mercedes or Geo is parked in the driveway. Generally speaking, high-end communities have more stable property values that are insulated from gyrations in the economy, if you can afford the price tag. In addition, there are fewer rental properties, which translates into better-maintained homes and yards.

7 - Potential nuisances. We're talking about proximity to stadiums, airports, freeways and other facilities that add noise, traffic and other irritations to your daily existence.

8 - Future construction. What is the land zoned for? For example, do you have property next door that's ripe for development? Is it slated for 15 townhouses per acre? You could have 60 neighbors moving in where there used to be none. What about commercial development... is Wal-Mart eyeing the property down the street? Do some research at the local town or county real estate office.

By Cliff McCreedy

Copyright © 2001, AHA, the American Homeowners Association, Stamford, Connecticut, USA All Rights Reserved.