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Top 5 Factors in Choosing the Right Neighbourhood
All neighbourhood searches begin with optimism and end with compromise. There is no perfect neighbourhood, but there is one just right for you. It’s important to realize a trouble-free neighbourhood doesn’t exist. You begin by taking stock of your requirements (must haves), your would-like-to-haves, and your willing-to-let-go items. Let’s look at the top-five items on most buyers’ must-have list, since it’s probably your paramount focus. The list includes:
- Affordability and Appreciation
- Proximity to Work or Services
Affordability and Appreciation
Face it: the mortgage crises of the last decade put affordability ahead of appreciation for a while. Working with an accountant or loan officer’s mortgage calculator, you can determine how much you can afford to spend on a home. That ceiling will be one of the determining factors in choosing a neighbourhood. While exploring, visit city or county planning offices to see where your neighbourhood has been and where it’s heading. Are home prices on the rise, or still stagnating? Has the state or local government initiated programs to grow the local economy? What’s coming to your neighbourhood in the future? Is there a freeway or high density project slated for your street?
Did you know that the level of pay raises is one of the best ways to predict ongoing affordability? According to Fortunebuilders.com, the top five locations for increased income during the last quarter of 2013 are San Francisco, Baltimore, Seattle, Atlanta, and Dallas. Take heed of communities where the tax burden drops well below income levels. Some states and provinces have no sales taxes. Some have no state income taxes. How would these affect your financial planning?
Naturally, if you’re an empty nested citizen, this is of little significance. But if you have kids, the grades that school districts earn should be a primary concern in finding the right neighbourhood. The non-profit organization Great Schools (USA) and the Fraser Institute (Canada) can help you assess districts in your target location.
An American education news site called Education Week maintains rankings of states’ educational systems. The top-five states overall include Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New Hampshire and Vermont. The bottom five states are Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, West Virginia and Alabama.
Crime-avoidance usually involves a trade-off. If you’re searching for a place with low crime, you could choose the town of Burns, in southeast Oregon. In 2011, crimes dropped to just 190, significantly lower than the 441 crimes ten years earlier. However, residents of Burns are very isolated. For many, Portland, with its abundance of schools and services, is tolerable even with its 22,500 crimes in 2011. (Source: City Data). Similarly, a gated community can protect you from burglaries, but Science Daily reports that such enclosures foster greater levels of domestic violence and assault than open communities.
To find areas with less crime, visit law enforcement agencies in your prospective neighbourhood and ask straight questions. What’s the landscape of property crime and violent crime? Can you go places on foot? In touring neighbourhoods, take heed of barred windows, dilapidated yards and exteriors. Ask residents if there are drug houses or other crime areas in the vicinity. Don’t make assumptions on what you see; verify what you see with law enforcement statistics for the area.
Everyone sets their own distance limit on commuting to work, school, shopping or entertainment. Is there adequate mass transit if you choose to use it? Do schools offer buses? How far are healthcare services, airports, hospitals, big-box stores, parks and recreational facilities? And what about proximity to your family or friends? Remember, every commute after a while gets old. Test yours during heavy drive times.
Think about where you currently live and the area’s shortcomings. Are you setting yourself up for repeated disappointment? Are there theatres, restaurants, community gardens, farmer’s markets, town festivals or tourism attractions? Does your neighbourhood have a home owners’ association or is one unnecessary? In narrowing your choices, it’s vital to make several location visits at different times of night, day and weekends. How’s the traffic? Does the local mill smell like a wet poodle with halitosis? Do your neighbours host practising garage bands?
Of course there are other factors to investigate, including employment opportunities, local culture and annual weather patterns (hint: don’t buy in a tornado alley).
Just behind death and divorce, moving to a new locale is said to be the most stressful experience we have. There’s money, paperwork, packing, money, huge disruptions in employment and schooling, and money. Searching for the right neighbourhood should be an independent act, if possible, to disconnect as best you can from stress.
Put a positive spin on opening a new chapter in your life. Search with diligence, but never out of desperation. As you begin to round up numbers, the best candidates will surface to the top. Rent a room and spend a few days in your two top-prospect neighbourhoods. How does it feel to live here? You’re almost home.
Also see our Top Tips to Buying a House.
Featured Image: www.moving.about.com