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How to Buy a Home - Step Three: Choose a Neighborhood

By Jennifer Shapiro on Mar 17, 2021


If you  didn’t  catch our last blog post on how to find financing and make sure that you are either pre-approved or Cash-Approved™ before you begin your home search, you can get caught up here.  In today’s blog, we take a look at the third step to purchasing a home: choosing a neighborhood.

Denver Neighborhoods

It’s All About Where You Live: Location, Location, Location!

Real estate can be summarized in one word: location, location, location. The most important factor isn’t the house itself- it’s the neighborhood. What makes a neighborhood great? The answer is different for everyone depending on their stage of life and what matters to them. Here are some things to think about as you consider where you want to call your home.

“You’re buying the area… the house is just along for the ride.”
-Barbara Corcoran, Founder of The Corcoran Group

The Practical Side: Does the Neighborhood Check your Boxes?

It can be difficult to know what all your priorities in a location are or should be, so a good place to start is by asking yourself a few simple and practical questions.

  • How much can you afford?
  • What is an acceptable daily commute?
  • How far are you from schools and what is their rating?

What if you don’t have children, though? Should you still care about a school’s rating? Yes, because of the potential resale value. Future homebuyers of that house might have children and care. And since over half of buyers have children, it is fair to say that a school’s rating can be an important factor in determining resale value.

Pro-Tip: When picking a neighborhood keep the resale value, the amount that a home is expected to sell for at some point in the future, in the front of your mind and as part of your criteria for selecting a location. School ratings, nearby commercial development or public utilities like power lines -all things not in a home, but, near a home’s location, can affect the perceived future value of a home.

Study the Area within a 1-Mile Radius

Can you imagine buying a gown or a tuxedo for a formal event without ever having tried it on until the big night? Probably not. While most people perform their due diligence for a home purchase, they often forget to do their due diligence on the neighborhood and the surrounding area. Why? Well, for one; researching zoning and reviewing HOA rules are not as much fun as cruising open houses and seeing the latest upgrades. When you’re visiting open houses, you’re probably not considering that high school you passed at the entrance of the neighborhood. That school, however, has teenagers-many, many teenagers. Well, what’s wrong with children you might ask? We just said that school ratings are important in picking a good neighborhood and this one is A-rated!

So, what’s the problem here?

Well, there is no problem- yet. But in October when football season starts there might be. Because where there is a high school there is usually a football team. And a marching band. And Friday night games with stadium lights and boisterous fans. How many games are there again? How late do they go until? Wait- this school hosts a football camp in the summertime for all the schools in the area? Wow. That’s a lot of teenagers close to your home year-round...

Pro-Tip: Draw a 1-mile circle around the prospective neighborhood you are considering and identify other residential and commercial development. Ask yourself what the potential impact of these could be on your daily life and if you are ok with it. Take seasons, different times of year, and even traffic patterns into consideration.

Who are the People in the Neighborhood? Have you Chatted with Them?

It’s very hard to foresee all the possible scenarios, both good and bad, that living in a certain neighborhood might introduce into your life. But not if you’re a person who already lives in the neighborhood. Those people? They know the drill, and they probably aren’t afraid to tell you what they do or don’t like about their community.

Unlike real estate agents, lenders or sellers, the people in a neighborhood aren’t motivated to sell you anything. They will be open in sharing what they do or don’t like about their community. Where and when the traffic jams are the worst, how often there are additional HOA assessments, and if the neighbors are dog people? Want to know if a community’s Homeowner’s Association is on the strict side with parking? Ask a neighbor. Want to know if the community culture is a social one with silly hat parties and Wednesday Wine Downs or if people keep to themselves? Ask a neighbor. Need to know where you can get the best New York- style pizza versus Chicago style? You got it.

Realize that whether you plan on being social or not, you are going to have neighbors and other people you interface with daily when running errands or enjoying leisure time. Who are the people in the neighborhood? Are they families with children? Empty nester retirees? Young professionals? Renters?

Ask yourself: How important is it that the people who live in your neighborhood are in the same stage of life as you? Do you want to be social? Do you prefer privacy? Will they still be welcoming if you don’t want to participate? Love a golf course view but not the game? It’s all good. But we do recommend you find out how early in the morning those golfers may or may not hit a ball straight into your poolside morning meditation practice and throw off your zen.

Pro-Tip: Remember that because of The Fair Housing Act, realtors are very restricted in what they can say about “what kind of people” live in a neighborhood. They are also not allowed to talk about crime statistics. It will be up to your own personal research to find data and assess if you feel safe and comfortable.

How to Try a Neighborhood on for Size

Adopting the daily lifestyle and commuting patterns of a location by going different places on different days and times will let you know its true character so you can get a sense of what life is like on a weekly basis.

  • Test the traffic on different days and different times by commuting from a prospective neighborhood to your place of work
  • Go for a walk after 5pm. If you’re a dog person, bring your pooch. You can tell a lot about a neighborhood by the locals who walk them every day
  • Park in different locations on different days at different times-yes, that’s right; stake the place out. Sure, that street seems quiet on Wednesday at 11 am, but that doesn’t tell you if the college kids living in the rental home next door will be hosting a Kegger on a Saturday night
  • Go out to eat-whether you think you will eat out a lot or not, you can learn a lot about a place and its people by test driving dining options that are nearby

Life is Short, Find your Happy Place

In a low inventory housing market, it can be an incredible challenge to secure a perfect home or even one you feel really excited about. While there are many things you can do to renovate a home after you close on the sale, there is nothing you can do to change the vibe you do or don’t get from a community and its “sense of place”.

Do you feel comfortable and welcome when you are there? Are people friendly and warm? Or do you feel like a visitor?

Feeling comfortable is key. How do you like the scenery leading into the neighborhood? The entrance? Are there trees, trails or beautiful views? Does the thought of pulling into the neighborhood at the end of every day lift you up?

Before you begin house hunting, don’t forget to go “happy hunting” and find a neighborhood that feels right. You are less likely to make a hasty decision and end up with a bad case of buyer’s remorse if you take the time to learn the neighborhood first.

A neighborhood is where feeling at home and belonging should begin and end every day. Your location will dictate many of the people you meet and the experiences you have, so choose wisely. We hope you this post will help you find a neighborhood where you feel welcome and can call home.

Where to Look for More Helpful Information:

  • School board website-this is where you should be able to confirm a school’s rating
  • Local police stations– this is where you can get statistics on crime. Note: The Fair Housing Act prohibits realtors from talking about the crime rates so you must come to your own conclusions
  • City and County - this will tell you everything you need to know about the local government
  • Facebook groups and app’s like NextDoor -these can be very helpful in connecting to locals