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
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
http://www.homefair.com/calc/crime.html 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
By Cliff McCreedy