Wednesday, January 13, 2016

10 Signs you’re buying in a great neighborhood – and which red flags to avoid.

When buying a home, what should you look for in a neighborhood? In a recent poll by the California Association of Realtors, homebuyers rated what was important to them. The survey found that:

55% of homebuyers want to live in a place that’s away from it all
65% wanted a short commute to work
65% also wanted access to public transportation within walking distance of their home
66% looked for an established neighborhood with older homes and mature trees
66% also desired to live in a community with people at all stages of life
68% wanted easy access to a highway
69% said that walking distance to schools and shops, etc. was important
74% wanted to move into a neighborhood with high-quality public schools
80% looked for sidewalks and places they could take walks
86% desired privacy from neighbors

Those are great indicators of what to look for when buying a home or even renting in a new area. Let’s look a little closer at the top 10 factors to look for in a great neighborhood – and what red flags to avoid:

1. Matching your lifestyle
Are you outdoorsy love biking, jogging, and spending time in nearby parks? Do you prefer quiet and solitude or community events like fairs and festivals? Is a perfect Saturday night involve going out to watch live music at a local venue, or just sitting on the patio of a nice café drinking a glass of wine with a good meal while people watching? No matter what your hobbies, pastimes, and passions, there is a neighborhood for you. But seldom is there one neighborhood that can provide everything for everybody, so before you buy a house in the vicinity, make sure to think about your lifestyle and what’s most important to you, and then find the matching ‘hood.

2. Pride in ownership
Driving around a neighborhood for the first time while shopping for houses, it may all be a blur where everything looks about the same. But slow down and take another loop around the streets, this time looking for the subtle cues that display pride of ownership. Well-maintained lawns, freshly painted homes, cleanliness, and decorated front porches, and improvements all hint that it’s the kind of neighborhood where owners and renters care about maintaining the aesthetics – and values – of their homes.

3. Low crime rate
It’s a good idea to do a little research on crime in the neighborhood you’re planning to move into. There are plenty of websites that offer detailed reports, and you can also reach out to community organizations, the neighborhood watch, and local police. While every area can be a potential target of crime, you’ll want to know if it’s just a few petty thefts going on or a pattern of more serious, violent crimes that could endanger your family.

4. Schools
The quality of public schools is one of the most significant factors for influencing future values. Why? If the schools are good, young families and concerned parents will always want to move there. Not only are those the exact neighbors you’ll want to have, but also that unwavering demand will keep the real estate values high.

5. Parks
Hand-in-hand with schools, the availability of public parks that are nice, clean, and safe always boost the home values in the area. Well-planned and pleasing parks and recreational areas act not only as focal points for recreation and healthy lifestyles, but as positive anchors for the surrounding community.

6. Mature trees
Neighborhoods with fully-grown and well-planned trees, flowerbeds, and bushes, etc. are always a good sign. Sure, there are marginal or even bad neighborhoods that are old and have mature trees, but for the most part, you’ll know exactly what you’re getting with a well-seasoned community, as the majority of neighborhoods on the down slope or in transition are less than 20 years old. Don’t forget that trees also create shade in the summer, color during the fall, attract local fauna, and offer plenty of nice views and greenery the rest of the year.

7. Improvements and infrastructure
Are the streets wide with sidewalks that are well maintained? Are speed bumps and stop signs in place to slow and regulate traffic? Are streets well lit at night? Do the sewers, drainage systems, and garbage and recycling services work as planned? These may seem like little things, but they can make a big difference in improving – or hurting – the quality of a neighborhood.

8. Amenities
Are all the necessities like grocery stores, gyms, doctor’s offices and hospitals, hair salons, banks, and gas stations in close vicinity and easily accessible? If so, the next step is to check out the availability of restaurants, pubs, cafes, coffee shops, boutiques, art galleries, and other establishments that add a lot of flavor, character, and enjoyment in a neighborhood. Mom and pop eateries and businesses, especially, are a great sign that people are fully vested in the community.

9. Walking
Some neighborhoods can best be described as urban oasis, where everyone is isolated except for the ability to get in a car and drive where they want to go. But if you see a community where people and families are out taking walks, riding bikes, and able to go eat, drink, and recreate without getting in their cars, that’s a huge indicator that it’s a quality area.

10. Commute time
We’d all love to take nice after-dinner walks with our families and play in local parks but let’s face it: come Monday morning, most of us will have to go to work. So neighborhoods that are close to public transit, main streets, and highways are always in high demand. The key with proximity is to be close to these things but not right ON them, which can bring heavy traffic and even safety issues.

Neighborhood red flags:
So now that we have ten things to look for in a good neighborhood, what are some red flags that might indicate a community is on the downturn? If you take a drive around and see vacant buildings, empty commercial spaces in shopping centers, an unusual number of For Rent and homes for sale, high lawns, trash and litter, spray paint, abandoned shopping carts, too many cars filling streets, driveways, and even yards, security doors and bars on windows, and other signs of general blight, you may want to rethink the neighborhood. 

Take a few drives around the area in the morning, afternoon, and then again at night and compare the conditions. Instead of just looking closely at the homes you consider buying, remember that you’re buying into the surrounding neighborhood, too – and that might be even more important.

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