You are ready for your dreams to come true. After months of searching, you’ve found a house that meets all your ‘must have’ criteria and even most of your ‘nice to have’ criteria. It’s the perfect size with the perfect layout and at a decent price. You’ve checked out the school district, shopping district, parks, and other amenities. Life is looking incredibly good after spending hours online to find the home of your dreams.
You can’t substitute the facts or opinions that you find online for real-life experiences. Before you commit to purchasing that home by signing the contract and handing over all your down payment money, you need some face-to-face time in the neighborhood.
Walk the neighborhood during the morning, afternoon, evening, and weekends. What’s the traffic like during rush hour? Talk to your future new neighbors, people walking dogs, working in their gardens, people hanging out at a nearby park. Go to the local coffee shop or bar. Do this week’s grocery shopping in the new neighborhood. Go there for dinner Saturday evening and church on Sunday.
Are the people friendly or standoffish? Is there an interesting mix of people or is it an ethnic neighborhood? Which do you prefer? What specifically catches your attention as pleasing or annoying? What do you want to know more about?
By now, you should be feeling really good about the neighborhood that you’ll soon be living in. Just make sure you get as much of it right as you can because the neighborhood you choose will impact your day-to-day and long-term quality of life. If you haven’t done it yet, take the time to get to know a little about the people that will become your closest neighbors.
You can gain an insight about many things by just taking a closer look. Is the neighbor’s grass knee-deep? Are nearby houses in disrepair with peeling paint and broken handrails on the steps? Depending on your expectations, the flowerbeds may have too many weeds growing. Are there junk cars in someone’s front yard or a ratty old couch on the porch? Even if your home of choice is in a moderate neighborhood of older homes, the yards and the exteriors of the homes should indicate pride of ownership.
Vacant houses and empty storefronts are strong indications of a neighborhood in decline. On the other hand, if it’s spring or summer and neighbors are outside painting, planting flowers, or working on other home projects it indicates pride in homeownership and a thriving neighborhood.
By taking the time to walk over and meet the neighbors, you can learn a lot in a short amount of time. If they invite you to sit down for a cup of coffee, you could quickly discover that these are the kind of people that you’ll soon be swapping recipes with and inviting over for a BBQ. In a year, you might even trust them with your house key to water your indoor plants while you’re on vacation.
You may even find out something really important about the house you are about to buy. It could be that you learn the basement has a history of flooding that wasn’t disclosed to you. The neighbors know this because the sump pump in your soon-to-be new home drains water into their yard.
Or you might find out that the neighbors are openly hostile. Maybe they have a dispute about who should care for the hedge between the lawns, and they intend to get it settled once and for all. You might not want to inherit that ongoing battle.
Pets can also tell you something about the neighbors. Does a dog look like it is left tied up outside all the time without any attention? Does it snarl and bark when you walk over to the fence? Or is it wagging its tail and seeming happy to meet new people. There are telltale signs everywhere about the neighborhood you are thinking about calling home.
Whether you sit down for a cup of coffee or just chat on the front porch for a few moments, there are questions you can ask to learn a lot in a few minutes.
Neighbors can provide a wealth of information about the huge investment you are about to make and the life you are choosing. If you don't ask, you won't know.
Please share what you wish you knew about your neighbors before you bought your home.
Also, our weekly Ask Brian column welcomes questions from readers of all experience levels with residential real estate. Please email your questions, inquiries, or article ideas to [email protected].