How to choose the right neighborhood when buying your next home 

Buying a home is an incredibly exciting time: From the thought of being a homeowner to building a family under a solid roof, there’s nothing quite like it. And while the idea of the porch swing out back, the potential views from the bay windows, and the added space for any kids that might be on the way might make any home appear perfect, it’s important to keep a level head and an open mind before signing any closing documents. You might be wondering how to choose the right neighborhood for you and your family especially if this will be your first home. When buying a home, consider the neighborhood surrounding your potential new abode.

Neighborhood in Ontario, CA

Why it’s Important to Put Careful Thought and Effort into Choosing a Neighborhood

Finding a good neighborhood is just as important as finding the right house, especially if you have little ones joining you for the big move. It’s common for young couples moving into their first home to be there for a few years, and even up to a decade or more. This not only means you will want to love where you live, but it could also be the area in which you raise children. If this is your first time buying a house it's normal that you're looking for tips and information on how to choose your first home

The neighborhood you choose will impact their upbringing. It’s where they will go to school, make friends, and grow as a person. Just as important, you will be living there as well. When choosing a place to live even small things like having to drive a considerable distance to a decent supermarket will become a massive inconvenience as the years pass by. So, it’s important to have your checklist ready when selecting your new neighborhood.

Deciding Where to Live: What to Look for in a Neighborhood

Despite what anyone may say, finding the perfect neighborhood for you is possible. To help you conquer this seemingly daunting task, here is a go-to checklist of the things you’ll need to consider when it comes to knowing how to choose the right neighborhood and properly deciding where to live.

Safety and Crime Statistics

Take some time to do research on crime statistics in your chosen neighborhood. Every area will have some criminal activity. Keep the numbers in context by seeing how the local rates compare to overall U.S. crime rates.

How to check: Websites like CrimeReports and SpotCrime help you find crime in your city down to the neighborhood. It can also be a good idea to contact the neighborhood’s local police department.

Housing prices

Don’t just look at house prices now. Look at where they’ve been in the last few years and where you think they’re heading. This will give you a good indication of how your property may increase in value, or what the resale value will be if that day ever comes.  

How to check:
Use websites like realtor.com for checking sold prices and current listings in your area. Real estate agents can be a good source as they can do a comparable search of home prices in your area. Additionally, looking through public records can provide you with helpful insights like past sales history and tax assessments.

Schools 

Once again, look to the future here. Think about how old your kids will be in 3 or 4 years’ time. Will they need to move up to a bigger school? Research the nearby schools to determine if they fit your needs.
How do you determine if a school is "good" or not?

  • State test scores
  • Qualified Teachers and Management
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Sports programs
  • Transportation Time

How to check:
Visit the school district’s website and download the report card of local schools. This will allow you to view information about the school’s demographics, test scores, graduation rates, and more. You can also use websites such as GreatSchools.org and SchoolDigger.com to help you find and compare schools before moving.

 
Walkability 

Is it possible to get around by walking, or will you need to get the car out of the garage every time you need to take the kids to school or pick up some groceries? Luckily, smartphone apps and other tools can give you an indication of a neighborhoods walkability score before you even visit.

How to check:
Tools like Walk Score can help you find a walkable place to live. Another great way to get a feel for a neighborhood is often just to go there and experience it for yourself.

 
Ratio of Owner-Occupied Homes to Rentals 

It’s always nice to have a neighborhood full of people who are equally invested in their future in the area. As such, many people like to find neighborhoods with more owner-occupied houses as opposed to rentals.

How to check:
Find the neighborhood on a real estate listing website and search “for sale”, versus “for rent” in that area. This should give you an idea of how many properties are owner-occupied, versus those owned by investors.

Job availability and household income rates 

Financially, is it a smart area for you to live? Think about working opportunities nearby, as well as how much it realistically costs to raise a family in the area.

How to check:
Visit local job search sites to get an idea of the employment outlook in an area. It can also be a good idea to contact the local chamber of commerce and economic development offices.

Access to outdoors/nightlife/ family fun, etc.

Don’t worry, it’s not all work in your new home! Pick somewhere that has the right sorts of activities you and your family love, whether that be plenty of restaurants or large open play areas for the kids. Be sure to keep an eye out for access to the activities you enjoy alone or as a family!

How to check:
Tools like Yelp can be used to see what activities, events, and nightlife are available in your area. Google search is another great way to research an area before moving. Simply search “[your city] + hiking trails (or whatever activity you’re looking for).”

Sense of pride in the community

Do you get a sense of local pride in the neighborhood as you drive through or walk around? Are buildings and communal areas well maintained and cared for? Does it seem like the neighbors and community members are taking care of the yards and home exteriors?

How to check:
Take a walk or drive through the neighborhood to get a feel for the area. Well-maintained homes with landscaped lawns are a good sign that people truly care about their homes. You should also take some time to talk to residents and ask them what they like about the community.

Highway Access

Having easy access to major highways and thoroughfares can save you precious time on your daily commute. When looking at homes, note the time it takes for you to not only find the highway you regularly use, but how long it takes to access.

How to check:
Use Google Maps to get an idea of how long it takes to get around. Select the days and times when you usually commute to see how busy traffic is during those times.

Public transportation

If you need to commute by public transport to work every day, easy and/or close access to public transportation can make or break your love of a neighborhood. Having to walk 20+ minutes, for instance, to the local bus or train will become a grind, really quick.

How to check:
Search on Google to see what public transportation is available in the area. Use search terms like “public transport [area name]” or “how do you get around [area name]”.

Emerging restaurants and breweries

New restaurants and breweries emerging in communities all over the country are making it easier than ever for families in new communities to make friends and enjoy a day/night out.

How to check:
Use Yelp or one of the many similar apps to see what’s trending near your (potential) new home.

People Dining Out in Restaurant

How to Research a Neighborhood Before Buying a House

To help you choose the right place to live even more, here are our top 6 tips on how to research an area before buying a house.

1. Ask the right questions

When you’re exploring each house, whether with your realtor or otherwise, ask the right questions … and lots of them! In fact, it’s always best to prepare any questions ahead of time and tick them off as you go. NOTE: You can get a start on your list based on the points given above.

2. Drive around the neighborhood

Just by driving around, you’ll get a quick feel for the area and whether you like the layout and the local aesthetics.

3. Take a long walk

To get a better feel for the place, head out on a long walk. You can then take more time with your partner and your kids to take in the local charm and appeal and see if it’s right for you.

4. Visit local businesses

This is a great opportunity to head into any local businesses you pass along the way, including places like pubs, restaurants, and even barbers. Speak to the owners and ask for their honest opinion on the area.

5. Head online

You can find anything online these days! Local crime statistics, what’s happened to property values in recent years, and what’s in store for the community are all now available at your fingertips. This is an easy and natural step for everyone looking for tips on how to choose your first home.

6. Speak to the local authorities

Finally, it’s worth calling up the local authorities, such as the police department. They can give you the lowdown on safety statistics for the area and point out any problem areas that might not be conducive to raising a family. It's also important that you consider the home buying process when deciding where to live.

The Bottom Line

When choosing a neighborhood to live in, it’s important to feel confident in your choice. Thorough neighborhood research is critical to a successful home search. Remember to take your time searching and ask lots of questions.
 

Get Moving with Shea Homes

Considering a move and want to find the perfect neighborhood for you and your family? Sign up for the Shea Homes® newsletter and interest list to stay up-to-date on community news, design and decorating advice, and everything else you need to make your house a home!

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