Neighborhood Hunting Made Easy

Neighborhood hunting made easyWhen looking for a home, Laura Hansen knew she was going to be making some compromises. Her previous home, in Annapolis, Maryland, was a townhouse in a development full of busy young professionals like herself. This time, she wanted more of a dream house, and for Hansen that meant a sprawling property with a dock overlooking the Chesapeake Bay.

The bay house she found and ultimately bought was a fixer-upper with a great price. But the neighborhood is filled with people her parents' age--not exactly great for the single Hansen's social life.

As Hansen discovered, the perfect home isn't always in the ideal 'hood, and the best neighborhoods don't always have the dream crib. When you go real estate shopping, you're not just buying the house, you're buying into everything around it, too.

Writer Mary Umberger with InmanNews has come up with a set of criteria to take the surprises out of neighborhood hunting. Inspired by her list, we spoke with Prudential Douglas Elliman's Frances Katzen, who heads up The Katzen Group, and Stanley Wong of Beast Social, a real estate event planning group. Here's their advice for how to make sure you and your new neighborhood are the perfect fit.

1. Think about your sense of style. When Katzen is working with clients she makes sure she understands the lifestyle they currently have as well as the one they want. "It's my job to find out what you feel reflects your sensibilities," she says.

2. What is the home's proximity to important events in your day? Wong, who deals with properties in a family-oriented neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, says that being close to a good school district is most critical for families with children. So is access to parks, a solid transportation system, and parking options. Are daily resources like the grocery store, library, and post office all within a reasonable distance? If you're looking at a less expensive home that's further away from work, school and daily activities, make sure the tradeoff is worth it in terms of transportation costs.

3. Pay attention to the safety of the neighborhood at all hours of the day. Swing by at night and see what's going on in the area. If you can, check out what goes on in the 'hood during rush hour and on weekdays as well as weekends.

4. Meet your potential neighbors. Ask the locals for their take on safety, traffic, and noise. They'll be the best sources for honest information about the school system, trash pickup, and where to get the best produce.

5. Go online to research the area. The web can provide you with a wealth of info on where you want to live, where you currently live, and places you would never even dream of living. At sites like Neighborhood Scout, you can look up crime statistics, school performance updates, and price-appreciation records of other homes in the area. Umberger also suggests checking out NabeWise, a website that aggregates "quality of life" based around 65 specific characteristics. When you find what you like, the site provides photo tours and reviews. (NabeWise so far only features New York, San Francisco, Boston, Seattle and Chicago.)

6. Consider long-term value. Are there any future neighborhood developments in the works? Do homes consistently sell well, and is there solid growth or return in the resale in the neighborhood? "Solid growth and return in resale are good indicators that the area is well established and replenished by a consistent resale pattern," says Katzen.

Once settled in her new neighborhood, Hansen discovered other advantages that outweighed the older demographic. Her neighbors had the time and experience to help her renovate her house, and she felt embraced by a community of people who could be there for her when she needed it. She also scored a nice boyfriend a year later.
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