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Best Places to Live - How to Choose the Right Neighborhood

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When you're trying to find the best places to live, choosing a neighborhood is almost as critical as choosing a house or apartment; it needs to be safe, affordable and provide you with everything that you need.

If you're planning on purchasing a home, keep in mind that you're not just buying a house, you're investing in a neighborhood. The two are synonymous so you need to be extra careful in choosing the area you'll be living in.

Before we get started, you need to ask yourself what the most important features of a neighborhood are; what makes a neighborhood special to you? Do you prefer:

  • Quiet streets or a busier, active area?
  • Walking to amenities?
  • Trees and parks?
  • Close proximity to shopping and restaurants?
  • Older neighborhood or a newer development?
  • Tight-knit community or anonymity?

Now that you have that perfect neighborhood pictured in your mind, let's look at 8 key factors you should consider.

Crime and Safety

Research the Internet: Using a search engine like Google or Yahoo or MSN, type in the name of the city and "crime statistics by neighborhood". This should generate some information, depending on the size of the city. Most larger urban areas have detailed crime reports, while smaller towns may only have general information. Either way, this is a good place to start.

Contact the Local Police Department: The police department will provide details about a particular area. This is probably your best source for information on crime and safety. Most police stations will also provide details on how active the community is, if they are involved in crime prevention or community policing.

Drive Around the Area: Look for graffiti or other kinds of vandalism such as broken windows. Do homes have strong deterrents; "Beware of Dog" signs or high fences or bars on accessible windows?

Look and Feel

Take a Look Around: Spend time walking through the neighborhood. Take note of the condition of the houses, the front yards, the streets and sidewalks. Observe if people you encounter make eye contact with you. If they do, chances are it's a safe and friendly community. Check for vacant lots or abandoned buildings. Both could be used for commercial developments which could change the feel of the neighborhood and impact the property values. Note the traffic and speed and if the streets seem quiet or noisy.

I recommend taking a few walks through the neighborhood. Try doing this at different times of the day to get a sense of its highs and lows.

Also note the type of individuals living in the area. Young families versus college students comprises a completely different kind of neighborhood as does older homes than high-rises and condos.

Transportation

Commuting Time: How long will it take to get to work? Will you be going with or against traffic? Is the route easy to navigate?

Public Transportation: Is there public transportation available as an alternative to driving? During peak times, how often does the transit stop?

International Access: If you need access to the airport, how far is the drive? What is the cost to hire a taxi? Is public transportation an option?

Schools

The sign of a good neighborhood is a well-kept school. And if you have children, this is probably the first consideration when looking for a good neighborhood. For more details on choosing a school for your child, check out Finding a School.

Another factor to consider is how your child will get to school. Is there public transportation? Can they walk? Is it safe? How far is it to drive?

Property Values and Taxes

Current Value: Find out what houses in the neighborhood are currently valued at then ask a real estate agent how that compares with the average value five and ten years earlier. How much has the property increased? Has the neighborhood changed? Is the real estate agent aware of any future developments?

Future Development: Information can be found at city hall or through the local Chamber of Commerce. Future developments change a neighborhood, increase taxes and increase traffic. It's a good idea to investigate the future potential of the neighborhood then decide if that outlook will be suitable to you and your family.

Property Taxes: Find out from the real estate agent or the city what the current tax rate is and how much it has increased in the last five years. Is there another expected increase? How much might you pay in five years? Build this amount into your moving budget.

Amenities

If you decided earlier that the ability to walk to amenities or at least have easy access to them is important, then make sure you note if day-to-day requirements can be met. How close are you to a grocery store, convenient store, cafes and restaurants? If there are bars close-by, how noisy will it be on the weekends?

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