Before you go looking for the perfect home, first make sure you love the neighborhood, otherwise you might end up in the perfect home right in the middle of hell. First find a neighborhood that suits your unique needs, then find the perfect three bedroom house with the white picket fence to raise your 2.5 children in.
When you arrive in a prospective neighborhood you should not only look for the obvious, but also the not so obvious signs that something is not quite right. Bars on the windows are bordering on obvious. If you see a lot of houses with bars on their windows, those people are clearly worried about something. Rather than looking for bars on windows, look for the presence of security cameras. It’s one thing to have a security camera at a place of business, but to have them set up around your house (unless it’s a mansion), someone is really worried about being attacked or vandalized. You probably don’t want to raise your kids in that neighborhood.
Next check out local businesses. Do they scream hard times or success? If you start seeing a lot of pawn shops, checks cashed, bail bondsmen, rundown bars, adult bookstores, and liquor stores, you might want to stay away. All those places, while they may be legitimate businesses, they are all associated with an economy that is in the toilet. You can find neighborhoods that smell of success easy enough so you don’t have to relegate yourself to that kind of neighborhood. On the other hand, if you start seeing places like, 24 hour fitness and similar fitness places, upscale clothiers, Starbucks (they’re usually pretty picky about where they locate their stores), nice sit-down, cloth napkin on the table restaurants, and children’s clothing stores, then you have a neighborhood where people are doing well enough that they can afford more than just the bare essentials in life. Anytime you start seeing a collection of stores catering to things that are above and beyond the things you need to get by, that’s a good thing.
I would make one exception here. That would be for video stores and movie theaters (small ones). People have proven that they will spend money on entertainment regardless of hard times as it provides a much needed escape from reality. For that reason I would look for other signs like a juice bar, or a motorcycle dealership. While you may see some car dealers in bad neighborhoods because cars are often a necessity, motorcycles are not. People down on their luck do not purchase expensive motorcycles from dealerships. For that you need, either very good credit and money for usually expensive insurance, or a lot of cash; none of which people struggling are going to have much of.
What about the Parks?
It may be tempting to declare a neighborhood fit the moment you see a children’s park or playground. I would take it a step further. Who do you see in those children’s places? If you keep seeing teens hanging out during school hours, adults without kids hanging out, then I would not take my kids there. The place may have been a mecca for parents and their kids, but if it’s inhabited by everything but, well then something is clearly not right. If you do see parents or babysitters there with children; perfect. Your BEST source of information on the fitness of a given neighborhood is going to come from moms and dads first, babysitters second. They are almost always happy to endorse a neighborhood and gush about how wonderful it is, or they are all too happy to make sure you don’t make the same mistake they did.
Look for the Signs
It’s all about reading the warning signs. Look for the things that don’t always strike you as bad. Sometimes it’s those subtle things that scream your biggest warning. Only after you are sure the neighborhood is safe and fits with you or your family’s lifestyle, then can you go find a house with confidence. You can also bid on that perfect house with confidence because you know this is a place you would love to live in.
About the author: Travis Bayles is an independent real estate researcher. He enjoys sharing his insights on various property publications and websites. Visit Baywest Homebuilders, to find out more details.
Doing a legal 'stake out' on the property that you're thinking of buying is probably a good idea. Just say that you have potential neighbors who like to party at all hours. What do you think the odds are that the agent selling the property is going to tell you, "oh and by the way, if you buy this place, you'll get to rock n' roll all night, and party ev-er-y-day!"