Buying a house is a very exciting experience and you’re probably eager to get the process started. You may even already have a jumpstart on what you’re looking for in a home, but have you asked yourself: "Where should I live?" This is something important to consider when buying your first home. If you’re not quite sure what to look for in a neighborhood, here are some things to consider in scouting your ideal spot.
The safety of a neighborhood is a very important factor when looking to buy a house, especially if you have children. Here are some things you can look into to help you get a better sense of whether or not a neighborhood feels safe:
- Crime statistics - Every area will have some criminal activity from time to time, so don’t be overly discouraged if you can't find a completely crime-free area. However, if you check criminal reports through the city website or contact local law enforcement and notice a high level of activity, it may be a red flag.
- Neighborhood watch - Is there a neighborhood watch group established in the area? This may not be a deal breaker, but it’s something some families value. Ask local law enforcement or one of the residents. You might also see a street sign indicating it is a neighborhood watch area.
- Street lighting - An adequate amount of street lighting can help one feel safer in a neighborhood.
- Talk with neighbors - If you see someone walking their dog, mowing the lawn, or just grabbing their mail, introduce yourself by telling them you may be interested in moving to the neighborhood. Residents can tell you whether or not they feel the area is safe.
Of course, these aren’t the only ways to determine the safety of a neighborhood. And you should always trust your instincts. If it doesn’t feel right, keep searching for the neighborhood that makes you feel secure. Spending time in a neighborhood you’re looking at is a good idea, too.
Closest Grocery, Pharmacy, and Department Stores
Food, medications, and toiletries are necessities for daily life. If convenience is important to you, you may want to consider choosing a location that’s close to where you will be running a majority of your errands. Unless you're looking at a rural location, of course.
Map out where the neighborhood is in relation to the nearest pharmacy, grocery, and department stores. Are they conveniently close? Or will you dread planning a trip to the store? And be sure you're looking into the stores you prefer. If these stores are not close to your home, but are on your way to and from work, school, or daycare, that is also something that may factor into your decision.
Whether you're planning to have kids in the near future, you just had your first child, or you have a few youngsters in school already, finding a well-performing school district is something many families prioritize when looking for the right location to live. How do you determine if a school district is "good" or not?
- Test scores and data - State test scores can be an indicator of whether a certain school district is performing at, below, or above the state average. Minnesota Report Card provides graduation rates, MCA and MTA test scores, and information about access for English language learners, demographics, and more.
- Programming - School programming can be a big deal for some families. If your student does well in many classes, you may want to see if the district you're considering offers Advanced Placement (AP) classes or college-level courses that can go toward an education after high school.
- Extracurricular activities - Maybe your child loves writing or performing in musicals? Does the school have a newspaper? Finding a district that caters to your children's interests and strengths will help toward their success.
- Sports programs - Maybe you assume all school districts offer high school football, have a swimming team, and are competitive in lacrosse. But maybe the district you're looking into is too small or lacks the funding to support specific sports. Double check to see what athletic programs are offered.
- PTO - If open parent and teacher communication and cooperation is important to you, ask about its Parent Teacher Organization or Association (PTO/PTA). Is there one? How many people actively participate? How often do they meet? What types of topics are discussed when they do meet? Is it an open and welcoming group?
Nearby Parks, Walking Paths, or Dog Parks
Even if you’re looking to buy a home during the winter season, it is still important to check out the outdoor amenities a neighborhood has to offer. You may want to consider taking a drive or walk around the area, and checking for things like:
- Sidewalks - This may not be a deal breaker for you, but sidewalks make a neighborhood more pedestrian friendly. Instead of biking or walking on the street, where cars are driving, you have the safety of a sidewalk.
- Parks - Speaking of parks, is there one within walking distance? Or is it a short drive away? What amenities does the park have? If it's not something you would visit, it might not matter, or it might deter you from buying a house in that neighborhood.
- Walking trails- Maybe you take your dog for a walk every morning before you go to work, or you enjoy a family stroll after dinner. Look around for nearby walking trails or locate a city trail map.
Commute to Work
Where you work in relation to where you live is an important factor to consider, especially if your goal is to have a short commute. If driving yourself isn’t an option, or one you prefer to avoid, look into transportation options such as metro transit buses or light rail.
Types of Restaurants in the Area
Since food is a daily necessity but you don't always have time to buy groceries and prepare a home-cooked meal, you may find it valuable to have dining options in the area.
Things to remember
The same features that make a neighborhood desirable can also raise the demand for (and prices of) homes in that area. If this happens to you while searching for a home, you may need to take a step back and re-think your approach. Prioritizing your "must-haves" during your home search will make the decision process much easier down the road. You should also work with your realtor and get an idea of how competitive the housing market is in that area. Are people waiting months, a year, or more to buy homes in that community?
It's helpful to determine whether you love the house or the neighborhood. If it’s the neighborhood you love, and the house price is too high, you have a few options. First, you can try to find a smaller home in the area that you can afford. If that's not an option, you can also go back to your "must-haves" list and see if there are any amenities/finishes/etc. that you're willing to give up to find a home in that neighborhood.
If it’s the home you love, understand that you can pay the same amount for very different houses depending on the community you’re looking in. Try to identify what it is you love about the house. Chances are there's a home in a neighborhood nearby that’s less expensive, but has a similar neighborhood feel and community amenities.
Remember to take your time searching and don't be afraid to drive around the area, talk to neighbors, and ask questions. You want to be comfortable when making a big decision like where to buy a house, and you want to be confident in your choice. Make sure to have honest, open conversations with people you trust during the homebuying process such as family members, your realtor, or a financial coach. They can help set realistic expectations and offer advice and opinions when you're making a decision.