What’s Good in the Hood? Six Ways to Check Your Neighborhood’s Vibe

BEST CITIES

 

When Bradley Shaw decided to move to Coronado, California last year, he was drawn to the laid-back beach lifestyle the area offered. But after he sold his old house and needed to find a new place quickly, he blew off some of the research he planned to do and ended up in a neighborhood he admits isn’t exactly what he wanted.

The house is on a busier street than he would have liked, and he’s found that the demographics of the area, including a high military population, lead to a concentration of rental homes and a consistent turnover of neighbors.

The house itself…still awesome. The rest of his environment…less than ideal.

There’s much more that factors into the enjoyment of your home than the structure itself. In fact, “neighborhood quality” is more important than home size for more than three-quarters of home buyers surveyed by the National Association of REALTORS®.

Here are six questions to consider about your new home’s environment.

1. How safe is the area?

 

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 12.26.31 PM

This is probably the first item on your neighborhood fact-finding list, and with good reason. Crime stats can be found a variety of places online including NeighborhoodScout, which has a section for crime rates; and AreaVibes, which computes a Livability Score that includes crime rates.

To find out if there are nearby sex offenders, check databases at the U.S. Department of Justice National Sex Offender Public Website or Family Watchdog. You can also check with your local police department and consult the online community paper, which often prints the police blotter.

2. How awesome are the schools?

Websites such as SchoolDigger and GreatSchools can be a good starting point for assessing your local schools, and they are important to consult since everyone else (read: the next buyers) will be factoring those numbers into their ranking, too. But don’t rely on those numbers completely.

Call your local schools and ask them to send you a copy of the most recent Parent Teacher Organization/Association newsletter. That will give you a good feeling for what goes on in the school community.

Tempted to blow off school research because you don’t have kids? Don’t. The school district is still critical, says Ali Wenzke, a suburban Chicago homeowner who has moved almost a dozen times for her and her husband’s work. “I was pregnant when we bought our first home, and therefore was all over the parks and nearby zoo. We didn’t even consider our school district because kindergarten was years away, and the local high school certainly wasn’t on our radar.” Her story had a happy ending: She had unwittingly bought in a great school district which fast-tracked the resale, but warns it could have easily gone the other way.

3. Can you walk this way?

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 12.28.04 PM

A new factor popping up is walkability: A NAR survey found that nearly half of people surveyed would choose a community with a smaller yard if it had an easy walk to amenities over a place with a larger yard that required more driving.

“In a city like Los Angeles where people spend so much time in their cars, walkability is a growing factor in many buyers’ decision-making process,” says Realtor® Amber Dolle with John Aaroe Group in Los Angeles. Visit the Walk Score to find ratings for specific houses — the higher the rating, the more walkable the neighborhood is, meaning the easier it is to accomplish routine errands on foot.

4. What is the neighborhood like when there’s not an open house?

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 12.30.07 PM

Two p.m. on a Saturday is just one tiny sliver in the weekly rhythm of a neighborhood. Nothing beats a drive by on a Friday night to see how wild your neighbors get or just a walk around on a random Wednesday afternoon, says Todd Hutcheson, owner of ISellHomes.com in Orlando, Florida.

Check out if people are friendly when you stroll by; if kids are out playing; and if the streets are well-lit. And be on the look-out for deal breakers, whether it’s people parking their cars on the lawn or a pack of barking dogs next door, Hutcheson says, which can torpedo your peace and your home value.

And of course, you can always do a little door knocking to check with the neighbors, suggests Dolle, who often accompanies clients on a fact-finding mission. Find out if there are known crime problems or nuisances straight from the people who deal with them every day.

It’s also smart to try your commute during rush hour, just to make sure there are no unpleasant traffic surprises.

5. What’s on the horizon for your neighborhood?

Is your neighborhood slated for a three-lane highway, a new shopping mall, or scores of new tract homes? For better or worse, they will affect your home value, so check with the local planning and economic development departments. Development might just increase traffic woes and density, but it could also increases economic vitality, with upgraded buildings, parks and sidewalks, and exciting new merchants coming to town.

6. What are your neighbors ranting and raving about?

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 12.31.13 PMWish you could be a fly on the wall to find out what’s really important to your neighbors? Try hanging out on Nextdoor or the local Facebook Group. “These types of apps and sites can be great for discovering activity in the area, from upcoming events to crime,” says Aaron Norris with real estate investment firm The Norris Group in Riverside, Calif.

On his own community-run site, he finds that participants share everything from information about traffic incidents to funny stories, weather, nonprofit news, and lost dog posts. “It’s amazing how active these self-regulated groups are,” he says, noting that some are inclined to be positive and informative, while others attract squeaky wheels who have a lot of spare time on their hands to complain. Take the chatter with a grain of salt, but public social snooping can still provide an invaluable peek into what’s on your neighbors’ minds.

And, don’t hesitate to take it a step further. Many sites will let newbies ask questions about a community they are considering.

 

 

What’s Good in the Hood? Six Ways to Check Your Neighborhood’s Vibe

BEST CITIES

 

When Bradley Shaw decided to move to Coronado, California last year, he was drawn to the laid-back beach lifestyle the area offered. But after he sold his old house and needed to find a new place quickly, he blew off some of the research he planned to do and ended up in a neighborhood he admits isn’t exactly what he wanted.

The house is on a busier street than he would have liked, and he’s found that the demographics of the area, including a high military population, lead to a concentration of rental homes and a consistent turnover of neighbors.

The house itself…still awesome. The rest of his environment…less than ideal.

There’s much more that factors into the enjoyment of your home than the structure itself. In fact, “neighborhood quality” is more important than home size for more than three-quarters of home buyers surveyed by the National Association of REALTORS®.

Here are six questions to consider about your new home’s environment.

1. How safe is the area?

 

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 12.26.31 PM

This is probably the first item on your neighborhood fact-finding list, and with good reason. Crime stats can be found a variety of places online including NeighborhoodScout, which has a section for crime rates; and AreaVibes, which computes a Livability Score that includes crime rates.

To find out if there are nearby sex offenders, check databases at the U.S. Department of Justice National Sex Offender Public Website or Family Watchdog. You can also check with your local police department and consult the online community paper, which often prints the police blotter.

 

2. How awesome are the schools?

Websites such as SchoolDigger and GreatSchools can be a good starting point for assessing your local schools, and they are important to consult since everyone else (read: the next buyers) will be factoring those numbers into their ranking, too. But don’t rely on those numbers completely.

Call your local schools and ask them to send you a copy of the most recent Parent Teacher Organization/Association newsletter. That will give you a good feeling for what goes on in the school community.

Tempted to blow off school research because you don’t have kids? Don’t. The school district is still critical, says Ali Wenzke, a suburban Chicago homeowner who has moved almost a dozen times for her and her husband’s work. “I was pregnant when we bought our first home, and therefore was all over the parks and nearby zoo. We didn’t even consider our school district because kindergarten was years away, and the local high school certainly wasn’t on our radar.” Her story had a happy ending: She had unwittingly bought in a great school district which fast-tracked the resale, but warns it could have easily gone the other way.

3. Can you walk this way?

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 12.28.04 PM

A new factor popping up is walkability: A NAR survey found that nearly half of people surveyed would choose a community with a smaller yard if it had an easy walk to amenities over a place with a larger yard that required more driving.

“In a city like Los Angeles where people spend so much time in their cars, walkability is a growing factor in many buyers’ decision-making process,” says Realtor® Amber Dolle with John Aaroe Group in Los Angeles. Visit the Walk Score to find ratings for specific houses — the higher the rating, the more walkable the neighborhood is, meaning the easier it is to accomplish routine errands on foot.

4. What is the neighborhood like when there’s not an open house?

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 12.30.07 PM

Two p.m. on a Saturday is just one tiny sliver in the weekly rhythm of a neighborhood. Nothing beats a drive by on a Friday night to see how wild your neighbors get or just a walk around on a random Wednesday afternoon, says Todd Hutcheson, owner of ISellHomes.com in Orlando, Florida.

Check out if people are friendly when you stroll by; if kids are out playing; and if the streets are well-lit. And be on the look-out for deal breakers, whether it’s people parking their cars on the lawn or a pack of barking dogs next door, Hutcheson says, which can torpedo your peace and your home value.

And of course, you can always do a little door knocking to check with the neighbors, suggests Dolle, who often accompanies clients on a fact-finding mission. Find out if there are known crime problems or nuisances straight from the people who deal with them every day.

It’s also smart to try your commute during rush hour, just to make sure there are no unpleasant traffic surprises.

5. What’s on the horizon for your neighborhood?

Is your neighborhood slated for a three-lane highway, a new shopping mall, or scores of new tract homes? For better or worse, they will affect your home value, so check with the local planning and economic development departments. Development might just increase traffic woes and density, but it could also increases economic vitality, with upgraded buildings, parks and sidewalks, and exciting new merchants coming to town.

6. What are your neighbors ranting and raving about?

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 12.31.13 PMWish you could be a fly on the wall to find out what’s really important to your neighbors? Try hanging out on Nextdoor or the local Facebook Group. “These types of apps and sites can be great for discovering activity in the area, from upcoming events to crime,” says Aaron Norris with real estate investment firm The Norris Group in Riverside, Calif.

On his own community-run site, he finds that participants share everything from information about traffic incidents to funny stories, weather, nonprofit news, and lost dog posts. “It’s amazing how active these self-regulated groups are,” he says, noting that some are inclined to be positive and informative, while others attract squeaky wheels who have a lot of spare time on their hands to complain. Take the chatter with a grain of salt, but public social snooping can still provide an invaluable peek into what’s on your neighbors’ minds.

And, don’t hesitate to take it a step further. Many sites will let newbies ask questions about a community they are considering.

 

 

What’s Good in the Hood? Six Ways to Check Your Neighborhood’s Vibe

BEST CITIES

 

When Bradley Shaw decided to move to Coronado, California last year, he was drawn to the laid-back beach lifestyle the area offered. But after he sold his old house and needed to find a new place quickly, he blew off some of the research he planned to do and ended up in a neighborhood he admits isn’t exactly what he wanted.

The house is on a busier street than he would have liked, and he’s found that the demographics of the area, including a high military population, lead to a concentration of rental homes and a consistent turnover of neighbors.

The house itself…still awesome. The rest of his environment…less than ideal.

There’s much more that factors into the enjoyment of your home than the structure itself. In fact, “neighborhood quality” is more important than home size for more than three-quarters of home buyers surveyed by the National Association of REALTORS®.

Here are six questions to consider about your new home’s environment.

1. How safe is the area?

 

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 12.26.31 PM

This is probably the first item on your neighborhood fact-finding list, and with good reason. Crime stats can be found a variety of places online including NeighborhoodScout, which has a section for crime rates; and AreaVibes, which computes a Livability Score that includes crime rates.

To find out if there are nearby sex offenders, check databases at the U.S. Department of Justice National Sex Offender Public Website or Family Watchdog. You can also check with your local police department and consult the online community paper, which often prints the police blotter.

 

2. How awesome are the schools?

Websites such as SchoolDigger and GreatSchools can be a good starting point for assessing your local schools, and they are important to consult since everyone else (read: the next buyers) will be factoring those numbers into their ranking, too. But don’t rely on those numbers completely.

Call your local schools and ask them to send you a copy of the most recent Parent Teacher Organization/Association newsletter. That will give you a good feeling for what goes on in the school community.

Tempted to blow off school research because you don’t have kids? Don’t. The school district is still critical, says Ali Wenzke, a suburban Chicago homeowner who has moved almost a dozen times for her and her husband’s work. “I was pregnant when we bought our first home, and therefore was all over the parks and nearby zoo. We didn’t even consider our school district because kindergarten was years away, and the local high school certainly wasn’t on our radar.” Her story had a happy ending: She had unwittingly bought in a great school district which fast-tracked the resale, but warns it could have easily gone the other way.

3. Can you walk this way?

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 12.28.04 PM

A new factor popping up is walkability: A NAR survey found that nearly half of people surveyed would choose a community with a smaller yard if it had an easy walk to amenities over a place with a larger yard that required more driving.

“In a city like Los Angeles where people spend so much time in their cars, walkability is a growing factor in many buyers’ decision-making process,” says Realtor® Amber Dolle with John Aaroe Group in Los Angeles. Visit the Walk Score to find ratings for specific houses — the higher the rating, the more walkable the neighborhood is, meaning the easier it is to accomplish routine errands on foot.

4. What is the neighborhood like when there’s not an open house?

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 12.30.07 PM

Two p.m. on a Saturday is just one tiny sliver in the weekly rhythm of a neighborhood. Nothing beats a drive by on a Friday night to see how wild your neighbors get or just a walk around on a random Wednesday afternoon, says Todd Hutcheson, owner of ISellHomes.com in Orlando, Florida.

Check out if people are friendly when you stroll by; if kids are out playing; and if the streets are well-lit. And be on the look-out for deal breakers, whether it’s people parking their cars on the lawn or a pack of barking dogs next door, Hutcheson says, which can torpedo your peace and your home value.

And of course, you can always do a little door knocking to check with the neighbors, suggests Dolle, who often accompanies clients on a fact-finding mission. Find out if there are known crime problems or nuisances straight from the people who deal with them every day.

It’s also smart to try your commute during rush hour, just to make sure there are no unpleasant traffic surprises.

5. What’s on the horizon for your neighborhood?

Is your neighborhood slated for a three-lane highway, a new shopping mall, or scores of new tract homes? For better or worse, they will affect your home value, so check with the local planning and economic development departments. Development might just increase traffic woes and density, but it could also increases economic vitality, with upgraded buildings, parks and sidewalks, and exciting new merchants coming to town.

6. What are your neighbors ranting and raving about?

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 12.31.13 PMWish you could be a fly on the wall to find out what’s really important to your neighbors? Try hanging out on Nextdoor or the local Facebook Group. “These types of apps and sites can be great for discovering activity in the area, from upcoming events to crime,” says Aaron Norris with real estate investment firm The Norris Group in Riverside, Calif.

On his own community-run site, he finds that participants share everything from information about traffic incidents to funny stories, weather, nonprofit news, and lost dog posts. “It’s amazing how active these self-regulated groups are,” he says, noting that some are inclined to be positive and informative, while others attract squeaky wheels who have a lot of spare time on their hands to complain. Take the chatter with a grain of salt, but public social snooping can still provide an invaluable peek into what’s on your neighbors’ minds.

And, don’t hesitate to take it a step further. Many sites will let newbies ask questions about a community they are considering.

 

 

What’s Good in the Hood? Six Ways to Check Your Neighborhood’s Vibe

BEST CITIES

 

When Bradley Shaw decided to move to Coronado, California last year, he was drawn to the laid-back beach lifestyle the area offered. But after he sold his old house and needed to find a new place quickly, he blew off some of the research he planned to do and ended up in a neighborhood he admits isn’t exactly what he wanted.

The house is on a busier street than he would have liked, and he’s found that the demographics of the area, including a high military population, lead to a concentration of rental homes and a consistent turnover of neighbors.

The house itself…still awesome. The rest of his environment…less than ideal.

There’s much more that factors into the enjoyment of your home than the structure itself. In fact, “neighborhood quality” is more important than home size for more than three-quarters of home buyers surveyed by the National Association of REALTORS®.

Here are six questions to consider about your new home’s environment.

1. How safe is the area?

 

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 12.26.31 PM

This is probably the first item on your neighborhood fact-finding list, and with good reason. Crime stats can be found a variety of places online including NeighborhoodScout, which has a section for crime rates; and AreaVibes, which computes a Livability Score that includes crime rates.

To find out if there are nearby sex offenders, check databases at the U.S. Department of Justice National Sex Offender Public Website or Family Watchdog. You can also check with your local police department and consult the online community paper, which often prints the police blotter.

 

2. How awesome are the schools?

Websites such as SchoolDigger and GreatSchools can be a good starting point for assessing your local schools, and they are important to consult since everyone else (read: the next buyers) will be factoring those numbers into their ranking, too. But don’t rely on those numbers completely.

Call your local schools and ask them to send you a copy of the most recent Parent Teacher Organization/Association newsletter. That will give you a good feeling for what goes on in the school community.

Tempted to blow off school research because you don’t have kids? Don’t. The school district is still critical, says Ali Wenzke, a suburban Chicago homeowner who has moved almost a dozen times for her and her husband’s work. “I was pregnant when we bought our first home, and therefore was all over the parks and nearby zoo. We didn’t even consider our school district because kindergarten was years away, and the local high school certainly wasn’t on our radar.” Her story had a happy ending: She had unwittingly bought in a great school district which fast-tracked the resale, but warns it could have easily gone the other way.

3. Can you walk this way?

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 12.28.04 PM

A new factor popping up is walkability: A NAR survey found that nearly half of people surveyed would choose a community with a smaller yard if it had an easy walk to amenities over a place with a larger yard that required more driving.

“In a city like Los Angeles where people spend so much time in their cars, walkability is a growing factor in many buyers’ decision-making process,” says Realtor® Amber Dolle with John Aaroe Group in Los Angeles. Visit the Walk Score to find ratings for specific houses — the higher the rating, the more walkable the neighborhood is, meaning the easier it is to accomplish routine errands on foot.

4. What is the neighborhood like when there’s not an open house?

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 12.30.07 PM

Two p.m. on a Saturday is just one tiny sliver in the weekly rhythm of a neighborhood. Nothing beats a drive by on a Friday night to see how wild your neighbors get or just a walk around on a random Wednesday afternoon, says Todd Hutcheson, owner of ISellHomes.com in Orlando, Florida.

Check out if people are friendly when you stroll by; if kids are out playing; and if the streets are well-lit. And be on the look-out for deal breakers, whether it’s people parking their cars on the lawn or a pack of barking dogs next door, Hutcheson says, which can torpedo your peace and your home value.

And of course, you can always do a little door knocking to check with the neighbors, suggests Dolle, who often accompanies clients on a fact-finding mission. Find out if there are known crime problems or nuisances straight from the people who deal with them every day.

It’s also smart to try your commute during rush hour, just to make sure there are no unpleasant traffic surprises.

5. What’s on the horizon for your neighborhood?

Is your neighborhood slated for a three-lane highway, a new shopping mall, or scores of new tract homes? For better or worse, they will affect your home value, so check with the local planning and economic development departments. Development might just increase traffic woes and density, but it could also increases economic vitality, with upgraded buildings, parks and sidewalks, and exciting new merchants coming to town.

6. What are your neighbors ranting and raving about?

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 12.31.13 PMWish you could be a fly on the wall to find out what’s really important to your neighbors? Try hanging out on Nextdoor or the local Facebook Group. “These types of apps and sites can be great for discovering activity in the area, from upcoming events to crime,” says Aaron Norris with real estate investment firm The Norris Group in Riverside, Calif.

On his own community-run site, he finds that participants share everything from information about traffic incidents to funny stories, weather, nonprofit news, and lost dog posts. “It’s amazing how active these self-regulated groups are,” he says, noting that some are inclined to be positive and informative, while others attract squeaky wheels who have a lot of spare time on their hands to complain. Take the chatter with a grain of salt, but public social snooping can still provide an invaluable peek into what’s on your neighbors’ minds.

And, don’t hesitate to take it a step further. Many sites will let newbies ask questions about a community they are considering.

 

 

What’s Good in the Hood? Six Ways to Check Your Neighborhood’s Vibe

BEST CITIES

 

When Bradley Shaw decided to move to Coronado, California last year, he was drawn to the laid-back beach lifestyle the area offered. But after he sold his old house and needed to find a new place quickly, he blew off some of the research he planned to do and ended up in a neighborhood he admits isn’t exactly what he wanted.

The house is on a busier street than he would have liked, and he’s found that the demographics of the area, including a high military population, lead to a concentration of rental homes and a consistent turnover of neighbors.

The house itself…still awesome. The rest of his environment…less than ideal.

There’s much more that factors into the enjoyment of your home than the structure itself. In fact, “neighborhood quality” is more important than home size for more than three-quarters of home buyers surveyed by the National Association of REALTORS®.

Here are six questions to consider about your new home’s environment.

1. How safe is the area?

 

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 12.26.31 PM

This is probably the first item on your neighborhood fact-finding list, and with good reason. Crime stats can be found a variety of places online including NeighborhoodScout, which has a section for crime rates; and AreaVibes, which computes a Livability Score that includes crime rates.

To find out if there are nearby sex offenders, check databases at the U.S. Department of Justice National Sex Offender Public Website or Family Watchdog. You can also check with your local police department and consult the online community paper, which often prints the police blotter.

 

2. How awesome are the schools?

Websites such as SchoolDigger and GreatSchools can be a good starting point for assessing your local schools, and they are important to consult since everyone else (read: the next buyers) will be factoring those numbers into their ranking, too. But don’t rely on those numbers completely.

Call your local schools and ask them to send you a copy of the most recent Parent Teacher Organization/Association newsletter. That will give you a good feeling for what goes on in the school community.

Tempted to blow off school research because you don’t have kids? Don’t. The school district is still critical, says Ali Wenzke, a suburban Chicago homeowner who has moved almost a dozen times for her and her husband’s work. “I was pregnant when we bought our first home, and therefore was all over the parks and nearby zoo. We didn’t even consider our school district because kindergarten was years away, and the local high school certainly wasn’t on our radar.” Her story had a happy ending: She had unwittingly bought in a great school district which fast-tracked the resale, but warns it could have easily gone the other way.

3. Can you walk this way?

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 12.28.04 PM

A new factor popping up is walkability: A NAR survey found that nearly half of people surveyed would choose a community with a smaller yard if it had an easy walk to amenities over a place with a larger yard that required more driving.

“In a city like Los Angeles where people spend so much time in their cars, walkability is a growing factor in many buyers’ decision-making process,” says Realtor® Amber Dolle with John Aaroe Group in Los Angeles. Visit the Walk Score to find ratings for specific houses — the higher the rating, the more walkable the neighborhood is, meaning the easier it is to accomplish routine errands on foot.

4. What is the neighborhood like when there’s not an open house?

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 12.30.07 PM

Two p.m. on a Saturday is just one tiny sliver in the weekly rhythm of a neighborhood. Nothing beats a drive by on a Friday night to see how wild your neighbors get or just a walk around on a random Wednesday afternoon, says Todd Hutcheson, owner of ISellHomes.com in Orlando, Florida.

Check out if people are friendly when you stroll by; if kids are out playing; and if the streets are well-lit. And be on the look-out for deal breakers, whether it’s people parking their cars on the lawn or a pack of barking dogs next door, Hutcheson says, which can torpedo your peace and your home value.

And of course, you can always do a little door knocking to check with the neighbors, suggests Dolle, who often accompanies clients on a fact-finding mission. Find out if there are known crime problems or nuisances straight from the people who deal with them every day.

It’s also smart to try your commute during rush hour, just to make sure there are no unpleasant traffic surprises.

5. What’s on the horizon for your neighborhood?

Is your neighborhood slated for a three-lane highway, a new shopping mall, or scores of new tract homes? For better or worse, they will affect your home value, so check with the local planning and economic development departments. Development might just increase traffic woes and density, but it could also increases economic vitality, with upgraded buildings, parks and sidewalks, and exciting new merchants coming to town.

6. What are your neighbors ranting and raving about?

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 12.31.13 PMWish you could be a fly on the wall to find out what’s really important to your neighbors? Try hanging out on Nextdoor or the local Facebook Group. “These types of apps and sites can be great for discovering activity in the area, from upcoming events to crime,” says Aaron Norris with real estate investment firm The Norris Group in Riverside, Calif.

On his own community-run site, he finds that participants share everything from information about traffic incidents to funny stories, weather, nonprofit news, and lost dog posts. “It’s amazing how active these self-regulated groups are,” he says, noting that some are inclined to be positive and informative, while others attract squeaky wheels who have a lot of spare time on their hands to complain. Take the chatter with a grain of salt, but public social snooping can still provide an invaluable peek into what’s on your neighbors’ minds.

And, don’t hesitate to take it a step further. Many sites will let newbies ask questions about a community they are considering.

 

 

What’s Good in the Hood? Six Ways to Check Your Neighborhood’s Vibe

BEST CITIES

 

When Bradley Shaw decided to move to Coronado, California last year, he was drawn to the laid-back beach lifestyle the area offered. But after he sold his old house and needed to find a new place quickly, he blew off some of the research he planned to do and ended up in a neighborhood he admits isn’t exactly what he wanted.

The house is on a busier street than he would have liked, and he’s found that the demographics of the area, including a high military population, lead to a concentration of rental homes and a consistent turnover of neighbors.

The house itself…still awesome. The rest of his environment…less than ideal.

There’s much more that factors into the enjoyment of your home than the structure itself. In fact, “neighborhood quality” is more important than home size for more than three-quarters of home buyers surveyed by the National Association of REALTORS®.

Here are six questions to consider about your new home’s environment.

1. How safe is the area?

 

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 12.26.31 PM

This is probably the first item on your neighborhood fact-finding list, and with good reason. Crime stats can be found a variety of places online including NeighborhoodScout, which has a section for crime rates; and AreaVibes, which computes a Livability Score that includes crime rates.

To find out if there are nearby sex offenders, check databases at the U.S. Department of Justice National Sex Offender Public Website or Family Watchdog. You can also check with your local police department and consult the online community paper, which often prints the police blotter.

2. How awesome are the schools?

Websites such as SchoolDigger and GreatSchools can be a good starting point for assessing your local schools, and they are important to consult since everyone else (read: the next buyers) will be factoring those numbers into their ranking, too. But don’t rely on those numbers completely.

Call your local schools and ask them to send you a copy of the most recent Parent Teacher Organization/Association newsletter. That will give you a good feeling for what goes on in the school community.

Tempted to blow off school research because you don’t have kids? Don’t. The school district is still critical, says Ali Wenzke, a suburban Chicago homeowner who has moved almost a dozen times for her and her husband’s work. “I was pregnant when we bought our first home, and therefore was all over the parks and nearby zoo. We didn’t even consider our school district because kindergarten was years away, and the local high school certainly wasn’t on our radar.” Her story had a happy ending: She had unwittingly bought in a great school district which fast-tracked the resale, but warns it could have easily gone the other way.

3. Can you walk this way?

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 12.28.04 PM

A new factor popping up is walkability: A NAR survey found that nearly half of people surveyed would choose a community with a smaller yard if it had an easy walk to amenities over a place with a larger yard that required more driving.

“In a city like Los Angeles where people spend so much time in their cars, walkability is a growing factor in many buyers’ decision-making process,” says Realtor® Amber Dolle with John Aaroe Group in Los Angeles. Visit the Walk Score to find ratings for specific houses — the higher the rating, the more walkable the neighborhood is, meaning the easier it is to accomplish routine errands on foot.

4. What is the neighborhood like when there’s not an open house?

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 12.30.07 PM

Two p.m. on a Saturday is just one tiny sliver in the weekly rhythm of a neighborhood. Nothing beats a drive by on a Friday night to see how wild your neighbors get or just a walk around on a random Wednesday afternoon, says Todd Hutcheson, owner of ISellHomes.com in Orlando, Florida.

Check out if people are friendly when you stroll by; if kids are out playing; and if the streets are well-lit. And be on the look-out for deal breakers, whether it’s people parking their cars on the lawn or a pack of barking dogs next door, Hutcheson says, which can torpedo your peace and your home value.

And of course, you can always do a little door knocking to check with the neighbors, suggests Dolle, who often accompanies clients on a fact-finding mission. Find out if there are known crime problems or nuisances straight from the people who deal with them every day.

It’s also smart to try your commute during rush hour, just to make sure there are no unpleasant traffic surprises.

5. What’s on the horizon for your neighborhood?

Is your neighborhood slated for a three-lane highway, a new shopping mall, or scores of new tract homes? For better or worse, they will affect your home value, so check with the local planning and economic development departments. Development might just increase traffic woes and density, but it could also increases economic vitality, with upgraded buildings, parks and sidewalks, and exciting new merchants coming to town.

6. What are your neighbors ranting and raving about?

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 12.31.13 PMWish you could be a fly on the wall to find out what’s really important to your neighbors? Try hanging out on Nextdoor or the local Facebook Group. “These types of apps and sites can be great for discovering activity in the area, from upcoming events to crime,” says Aaron Norris with real estate investment firm The Norris Group in Riverside, Calif.

On his own community-run site, he finds that participants share everything from information about traffic incidents to funny stories, weather, nonprofit news, and lost dog posts. “It’s amazing how active these self-regulated groups are,” he says, noting that some are inclined to be positive and informative, while others attract squeaky wheels who have a lot of spare time on their hands to complain. Take the chatter with a grain of salt, but public social snooping can still provide an invaluable peek into what’s on your neighbors’ minds.

And, don’t hesitate to take it a step further. Many sites will let newbies ask questions about a community they are considering.

 

 

What’s Good in the Hood? Six Ways to Check Your Neighborhood’s Vibe

BEST CITIES

 

When Bradley Shaw decided to move to Coronado, California last year, he was drawn to the laid-back beach lifestyle the area offered. But after he sold his old house and needed to find a new place quickly, he blew off some of the research he planned to do and ended up in a neighborhood he admits isn’t exactly what he wanted.

The house is on a busier street than he would have liked, and he’s found that the demographics of the area, including a high military population, lead to a concentration of rental homes and a consistent turnover of neighbors.

The house itself…still awesome. The rest of his environment…less than ideal.

There’s much more that factors into the enjoyment of your home than the structure itself. In fact, “neighborhood quality” is more important than home size for more than three-quarters of home buyers surveyed by the National Association of REALTORS®.

Here are six questions to consider about your new home’s environment.

1. How safe is the area?

 

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This is probably the first item on your neighborhood fact-finding list, and with good reason. Crime stats can be found a variety of places online including NeighborhoodScout, which has a section for crime rates; and AreaVibes, which computes a Livability Score that includes crime rates.

To find out if there are nearby sex offenders, check databases at the U.S. Department of Justice National Sex Offender Public Website or Family Watchdog. You can also check with your local police department and consult the online community paper, which often prints the police blotter.

2. How awesome are the schools?

Websites such as SchoolDigger and GreatSchools can be a good starting point for assessing your local schools, and they are important to consult since everyone else (read: the next buyers) will be factoring those numbers into their ranking, too. But don’t rely on those numbers completely.

Call your local schools and ask them to send you a copy of the most recent Parent Teacher Organization/Association newsletter. That will give you a good feeling for what goes on in the school community.

Tempted to blow off school research because you don’t have kids? Don’t. The school district is still critical, says Ali Wenzke, a suburban Chicago homeowner who has moved almost a dozen times for her and her husband’s work. “I was pregnant when we bought our first home, and therefore was all over the parks and nearby zoo. We didn’t even consider our school district because kindergarten was years away, and the local high school certainly wasn’t on our radar.” Her story had a happy ending: She had unwittingly bought in a great school district which fast-tracked the resale, but warns it could have easily gone the other way.

3. Can you walk this way?

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A new factor popping up is walkability: A NAR survey found that nearly half of people surveyed would choose a community with a smaller yard if it had an easy walk to amenities over a place with a larger yard that required more driving.

“In a city like Los Angeles where people spend so much time in their cars, walkability is a growing factor in many buyers’ decision-making process,” says Realtor® Amber Dolle with John Aaroe Group in Los Angeles. Visit the Walk Score to find ratings for specific houses — the higher the rating, the more walkable the neighborhood is, meaning the easier it is to accomplish routine errands on foot.

4. What is the neighborhood like when there’s not an open house?

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Two p.m. on a Saturday is just one tiny sliver in the weekly rhythm of a neighborhood. Nothing beats a drive by on a Friday night to see how wild your neighbors get or just a walk around on a random Wednesday afternoon, says Todd Hutcheson, owner of ISellHomes.com in Orlando, Florida.

Check out if people are friendly when you stroll by; if kids are out playing; and if the streets are well-lit. And be on the look-out for deal breakers, whether it’s people parking their cars on the lawn or a pack of barking dogs next door, Hutcheson says, which can torpedo your peace and your home value.

And of course, you can always do a little door knocking to check with the neighbors, suggests Dolle, who often accompanies clients on a fact-finding mission. Find out if there are known crime problems or nuisances straight from the people who deal with them every day.

It’s also smart to try your commute during rush hour, just to make sure there are no unpleasant traffic surprises.

5. What’s on the horizon for your neighborhood?

Is your neighborhood slated for a three-lane highway, a new shopping mall, or scores of new tract homes? For better or worse, they will affect your home value, so check with the local planning and economic development departments. Development might just increase traffic woes and density, but it could also increases economic vitality, with upgraded buildings, parks and sidewalks, and exciting new merchants coming to town.

6. What are your neighbors ranting and raving about?

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 12.31.13 PMWish you could be a fly on the wall to find out what’s really important to your neighbors? Try hanging out on Nextdoor or the local Facebook Group. “These types of apps and sites can be great for discovering activity in the area, from upcoming events to crime,” says Aaron Norris with real estate investment firm The Norris Group in Riverside, Calif.

On his own community-run site, he finds that participants share everything from information about traffic incidents to funny stories, weather, nonprofit news, and lost dog posts. “It’s amazing how active these self-regulated groups are,” he says, noting that some are inclined to be positive and informative, while others attract squeaky wheels who have a lot of spare time on their hands to complain. Take the chatter with a grain of salt, but public social snooping can still provide an invaluable peek into what’s on your neighbors’ minds.

And, don’t hesitate to take it a step further. Many sites will let newbies ask questions about a community they are considering.

 

 

Why Buying a Home Isn’t as Easy as Seen on HGTV

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How do you find your dream home? If you play by HGTV’s “House Hunters” rules, then all you need is to look at three houses, put in an offer, and move in. But real life rarely fits neatly into a 30-minute episode, and it is likely that you are in for a house hunt that’s more complicated than as seen on reality TV.

There are many factors that affect your house hunt – from your budget to your wish list – so before you commit your calendar to open houses for the foreseeable future, here are some things to consider:

How Many Houses Should You See?

Kellie Tinnin of ERA Sellers & Buyers Real Estate in Albuquerque, New Mexico, says there’s “no magic number” when it comes to house hunting.

“Some buyers need to see 50 homes before they can make a decision and some can see 5,” Tinnin says. The number of open houses is relative to how well she knows her clients needs. “It helps to have buyers outline their needs and wants on paper so they can visualize their home desires,” she says.

Having a wish list can definitely help you make the most of your home search. Sites like Real Scout allow you to save your favorite listings in one place, so you can keep your real estate agent in the loop with what you’re specifically looking for in a home.

Kathryn Bishop, a REALTOR® in Los Angeles, says discussing her clients’ needs and wants helps separate the “looky-loos” from the serious house hunters. According to Bishop, a real estate agent “can advise you about the odds of finding that dream house in the area you want for the price you want.” By knowing what clients want–and what they don’t want–Bishop says that a good real estate agent can suggest other possibilities, as well help you “sort out your emotions about each of the items on your wish list.”

Is There Love at First “Site”?

Perhaps you’re thrilled by the prospect of browsing dozens of houses. So what happens when you fall in love with the very first house you see? This is a house you’re buying, not a pair of shoes, so we’re talking serious buyer’s remorse if this isn’t the best house for your needs and budget. What’s a house hunter to do?

Katie Messenger, a REALTOR® with The Bello Dimora Real Estate Network of Keller Williams Realty in Louisville, KY, tells house hunters not to worry.

“If the first home you walk into is truly ‘the one,’ and there’s a fear about ‘what if I like something else?’ or ‘I shouldn’t buy the first house I look at,’ then your agent failed to normalize that feeling that it’s OK to love the first home you see,” says Messenger,

Kelly J. Joyner, a Real Estate Broker and REALTOR® from Charlotte, NC, would agree. If you hit the jackpot with the first house you visit, Joyner says, “then your real estate agent has listened, and you have communicated your wants and needs appropriately.”

When to Call off the Hunt

On the flip side, what if you’re not finding a property that says “home” to you? At what point do you decide to put your house hunt on hold?

Bishop says, “If you are only going to buy a certain type of house in a certain type of neighborhood at a certain price limit, and there are none available, quit looking,” she says, explaining that it could take years for the market to adjust to your price point. Of course, if you must relocate for a job, a growing family, or other pressing purpose, it’s a good idea to revisit your wish list with your real estate agent in order to revise and expand your house-hunting parameters.

HGTV has a way of making house hunting look easy. In real life, your house hunt is likely to take longer, but that doesn’t mean you have to look at a hundred homes, either. By conducting a realistic search based on your needs and budget, you could be moving into your new home sooner rather than later.

 

How to Beat an All-Cash Offer. Yes, it is Possible.

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In a hot real estate market, it might seem impossible to beat cold hard cash, but it’s not. With a few tips and tricks you can make a competitive offer, without liquidating all your assets.

Jennifer Branchini of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate in Pleasanton, California, knows the allure of all-cash for sellers, but serious buyers with traditional financing should not count themselves out. “One or two less things could go wrong in a [cash] transaction but [those buyers] can walk away just as easily as somebody that is getting a loan,” she says. Smart sellers know that and will look at the full picture.

Still, even with 1 in 3 homes being snapped up by all-cash buyers sellers still have skin in the game if they concentrate on knocking every other obstacle out of the way.

“Find out what the seller needs and then try to meet those needs,” Branchini advises. Here’s how.

Go in strong

Go ahead and get pre-approved for a loan – prequalifying just won’t cut it. And while you’re at it, go ahead and get an online appraisal for the house and have an inspection all lined up too when you make the offer.

“Less can go wrong because they’ve had the formal approval based on the house. And lenders are getting smarter and meeting the needs to compete with cash offers,” Branchini says.

Sometimes the all-cash offers are not the highest or best, so going in with more than the bare minimum down payment along with your financing will still show the buyer you are a serious contender. And forget lowballing. “You have to go in with your very best foot forward, put all your cash up front and then hope for the best,” Branchini says.

Lose the contingencies

Want to compete with cash? Sell your home now so when you make an offer it isn’t contingent on the sale. “That’s like the death sentence,” Branchini says.

And while all-cash buyers offer the benefit of closing within days, that isn’t very appealing to sellers in a hot market. Many of them are going to be in the same predicament of finding their next home now that their current one has sold. Being flexible the seller’s needs can boost your chances of success.

“I’ve got to keep these people in the house to go find another house,” Branchini says. “They need rent backs, they need to stay for a longer period time. So a 30-day close is actually not a terrible thing.”

Get personal

Sometimes all it takes to stand out is to make your offer personal – without imposing or veering into stalker territory. Branchini recently had a client who knew they were up against multiple offers, some cash, but were desperate to make the home theirs. Knowing a bit about the sellers they left a personal note on their front porch that included a bottle of wine and a toy for their dog.

And it was just the thing that put them over the top and got them the house.

“As long as you don’t knock on the door and disturb the owner I think it is a nice touch,” Branchini says.

Of course you don’t have to go as far as that – a simple note delivered with some flowers will set a nice tone without potentially putting you in personal contact.

The total package

Sometimes it’s all in the presentation and it’s hard to discount an offer so complete.

“My package has a cover letter, a letter from the buyer, the pre-approval letter, proof of funds to close a transaction, it has the offer and then if they’ve asked for disclosures it has that as well,” Branchini says. “Everything they possibly could need to make a decision is in one PDF.”

She strongly encourages buyers to write that personal letter to the seller. “You’ve got to touch both sides,” she says.” You’ve got to touch the warm, fuzzy seller and you’ve got to touch the financial seller.”

Two Years, One Year, Six Months: Your Get-Ready For a Mortgage Timeline

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Preparing for a mortgage is like planning for a big party. The more you do ahead of time, the less hectic things will be when the day finally arrives.

Getting a mortgage is a rigorous process that puts your financial life under a microscope. It isn’t just as easy as pulling your credit score. There are specific things you can do to prepare, at least two years in advance, to be ready for the day you find that special home.

What To Do Two Years Out

Two years before you apply for a mortgage get your credit in order. Especially if you have less than perfect credit, now is the time to rebuild yourself into a more attractive credit customer.

  • Don’t Quit Your Day Job: Changing jobs is fine. Changing careers is another issue. Mary Anne Daly, Senior Mortgage Advisor at Sindeo, says that “the magic number is two years.” Why does a lender care if you’ve changed careers? “From a lender’s perspective, they want to make sure that the new career works out.”
  • Clean Up Your Credit Report: Pull your full credit report. Look for anything that doesn’t seem to belong. Then investigate those trouble spots with an eye toward getting them removed. Daly notes that very old debts, those close to seven years, might fall off your credit report without you doing anything. She also says a lender can provide advice and guidance regarding what on your credit report might give them pause.
  • Pay Down Outstanding Debt: When it comes to your credit score, the second most important factor is the amount of debt you’re actively using. It’s also the factor you have the most control over. Old missed payments can’t be undone. Debt you’ve gone into can. So what’s the number one factor? Timely payments. “The best thing you can do is pay your bills on time,” says Daly. “Do that for two years and then you’re in good shape.”
  • Paying Off Old Accounts: There might be a negligible impact on your credit score for settling older debts in collections. From the perspective of a lender, however, it can make a big difference. When you settle a debt, you’re basically saying that you took on more debt than you could handle. That’s a big deal when potential lenders are taking a close look at your credit history. Daly recommends working on a payment plan with creditors.
  • Start Saving: The more you can save toward a down payment the better, though Daly says many people are surprised to hear that the old guideline of “20 percent” is largely a myth. Still, having a sizable down payment can help you to avoid taking on mortgage insurance, an extra payment often associated with lower down payments.
  • Keep Your Tax Returns: Other paperwork doesn’t have to have much of a legacy, but Daly says you should have at least two years of tax returns.

What To Do A Year Out

With a year to go before applying for a mortgage, you may be anxious. The good news is that you still have time to put some spit and polish on your future application.

  • Regularly Monitor Your Credit: You went through your existing credit a year ago. Hopefully you’ve been monitoring it in the meantime. If not, there are a number of free online services offering you a peek at your credit report. Check in once a month to make sure there are no irregularities.
  • Rework Your Budget: Remember, the more down payment you have the better. So with a year to go, why not look for savings in your budget. Cancel subscription services you’re no longer using, talk to your insurance providers about getting your rates lowered and throw the bulk of your tax refund into that down payment account.

What To Do Six Months Out

Now that you’re applying in six months, you’re getting really anxious to just start the process. Not yet. Now is the time to do a bit of fine tuning and get your ducks in a row before you apply.

  • Get Rid of Authorized User Accounts: Daly says that in the past, many people got added as authorized users on their parents credit cards to bump their credit up. Now, lenders are wise to that trick — and wary of people who are authorized users on credit cards. Sometimes lenders will go as far as to have you remove yourself from the credit card simply to run your credit as if you didn’t have it.
  • Check SindeoOne: SindeoOne’s rate quote can give you an idea of rates and what to expect for payment and costs. It’s quick, easy to fill out and can get you in the mindset of the home buying process.
  • Talk to a Mortgage Advisor: Different lenders have different criteria for mortgages. A mortgage advisor like Daly can give a fresh perspective on your finances. For example, many people don’t know that loans from family members, deposited in cash, can be a red flag. “Lenders don’t like people getting loans they don’t know about,” she says.

Applying for a mortgage doesn’t happen overnight, but you can make the mortgage application process a whole lot smoother — and potentially gain access to better loan services — when you prepare well in advance of application time. Now, that’s a reason for a party.