Home buyers enter the process with one of two mindsets. There are those who know what kind of house they want – the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, the type of kitchen and maybe whether or not they want a yard. Then there are those who know where they want to live, such as a specific school district or neighborhood, but haven’t completed a wish list of home features.
Seldom does a buyer tell his/her real estate agent that she wants a “three-bedroom, two-bathroom home with a gourmet kitchen, a fireplace and a pool in the backyard, located on J Street in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood.”
While it’s important for your real estate agent to know what features you want in a home, “location, location, location” is just as important, important, important.
Even if you know exactly what you want in a house and perhaps have one picked out, it’s important to scope out the neighborhood before committing fully to buying.
Don’t Believe What You Hear
Especially when you are new to an area, it’s easy to believe what residents tell you about the various neighborhoods. Remember, however, that everyone has different opinions and personal tastes. When someone says, “This town’s schools are not as good as that town’s schools,” keep in mind that everyone has differing needs, wants and preferences. One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor.
There is nothing quite like first-hand information. If good schools are important to you, do the research yourself instead of relying on what others consider “good.” GreatSchools.org lists schools’ test scores and features reviews from parents.
Crime statistics can also be found online. You can also call the police or sheriff’s department in the area for more information on crime statistics.
Google maps are great for figuring out routes from the new house to your job, to a particular school, or to the nearest shopping center and they give you the mileage and a rough estimate of the time it will take to get there. You can also use Google maps’ earth view to see what’s around the neighborhood – are there railroad tracks running behind the property? Is there a huge water tank nearby? Is the property too close to a highway for your liking? What’s that large industrial-looking building one block over?
A lot of your preliminary neighborhood research can be done online, but it’s not a substitute for actually checking out the neighborhood in person.
If you commute to work, you should take “a test drive.” Whether that’s driving, taking the train or bus, it’s a good idea to actually make the commute during normal commute hours to see if it fits your lifestyle. You don’t want to settle into a home only to find out that the commute is a nightmare — far worse than you had expected.
Drive through the neighborhood at different times during the day and evening, on both weekdays and weekends, looking for anything that may be considered an annoyance. Is the street much busier during the weekday rush hour than you had anticipated when you first saw it on a quiet Sunday afternoon?
You may also want to drive around to see how far it is to stores, schools, parks, gyms, houses of worship, and other places that are important in your life.
If you don’t drive, walk the neighborhood. Locate the nearest public transportation stop and see for yourself what the walk is like to the store and other local conveniences.
Check Municipal Records, Local News
Check the neighborhood and surrounding area for anything that may impact the home’s value. Look for things like a high number of foreclosures nearby, new developments in the works, and upcoming zoning changes. You can also find out a lot about what’s going on in a town or neighborhood by reading a local newspaper or checking out a local Patch.com if there is one for that town.
Find a Local Agent You Can Trust
Especially if you’re moving to an area that is new to you, it’s important to find a local agent who is familiar with the area(s) you’re considering. You want to make sure you find a trusted real estate professional who knows the neighborhoods, the schools, the shops, the restaurants, distances to highways, etc. – all the factors that are important to you when considering where to live.
If you’re considering a move to Northern New Jersey, give me a call. I have lived here my whole life and can help you with the inside info you need to find the perfect home.