Neighborhoods 101: How to Choose the Right Location for Buying a House

subdivision_entrance_400The biggest thing standing between most homebuyers and homeownership is a mortgage. It's a funny thing about a mortgage pre-approval letter:   It's like jet fuel, jumpstarting the home search process at mach speed. With that piece of paper in hand, homebuyers start considering how much house they can buy based on the amount of money they can borrow. Visions of three bedrooms and two bathrooms dance through their heads. What they fail to realize is that they're not just buying a house, but a lifestyle as well.

While it's a good thing to know how much house you can afford, the location of that house is all-important. Your dream house is nothing if it's located in a neighborhood you find intolerable. So, before you hop in the car with a list of houses that are spread all over town, do a little detective work to come up with an ideal location. Then narrow the search to a house within your chosen neighborhoods.

Where to Start When Choosing a Neighborhood

It helps to be part detective and part soul searcher when determining what you want in a neighborhood. The easiest way to come up with some ideas is by making a list of things you want in a neighborhood. Dare to dream when compiling your list. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

 Are you willing to take on a long commute? If not, whichever neighborhood you choose should be close to work. What don't you like about where you live now? This is an excellent question to ask yourself because sometimes knowing what you don't want is the best way to determine what you do.

When you find a neighborhood you like, do some sleuthing:

Housing costs: Any in-depth research on a location you can't afford is wasted time. Ask your real estate agent to give you a ballpark figure on what a house in a particular neighborhood costs.

Crime statistics: Although there are websites that list an area's crime rates, usually by zip code, the most reliable information comes from the local police. Don't be afraid to call them to find neighborhood crime statistics.

Parks: If you're an outdoor enthusiast, check on the proximity of parks, jogging trails, etc.

Traffic patterns: Is the neighborhood easy to get into and out of? Are the surrounding streets free from congestion?

Future plans: It's important to know if the city has any special plans in the area. A nearby landfill, for example, will drag down the market value for neighborhood properties. Call the city planning department to find out what, if any, plans there are for the area around your chosen neighborhood.

Check out Locations in the Neighborhood

While the Internet is a great tool when it comes to helping you narrow down neighborhood choices, it is no replacement for seeing it in person. Drive around the neighborhood at various times during the day and at night.

Don't be afraid to stop and chat up the neighbors. If they share their observations of the character of the neighborhood or if they refuse to talk to you, you've learned a lot about the area and its inhabitants.

Homebuyers looking for the perfect place to live need to become their very own version of Google Earth. Draw back from the situation – zoom out. Get the entire city view and then gradually zoom in, plugging in your criteria, until you find the perfect neighborhood for you. Then get in the car and go find yourself a house.

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