When you’re in the market for a new home, the first step is to figure which areas will be a perfect fit for you and your family to live in. Factors like cost of living, crime, local hot spots nearby, walkability, and commute time can make or break the day-to-day experience of living in your new home (regardless of whether you find that perfect kitchen, walk-in closet, or spiral staircase you’ve been dreaming of!).
- Scout the neighborhood
- Try searching around on AreaVibes.com, which allows you to sort neighborhoods by their Livability Score. You can even customize the search results to weigh different factors like amenities, cost of living, crime, and education according to what’s most important to you!
- Scope out spots from a birds’ eye view by looking around on Google Maps with Satellite view turned on.
- Go for a drive and/or a walk through the areas you’re interested in and observe cleanliness, activity, traffic, and noise. Try visiting at several different points of the week and times of day to get a feel for the area overall. Good times to scout for potential problems are during rush hour, late at night on a Friday or Saturday, evening time on weeknights, or during any time that is important for your particular schedule.
- If you’re a dog owner, you can get an idea of how dog friendly the area is by browsing restaurants, activities, and pet services on BringFido.com. You can also search for nearby dog parks by searching “dog parks near me” on Google.
- Want to meet locals? You can use NextDoor.com to connect with neighbors in your area, either before or after moving in!
- Take note of HOA fees and property taxes
- Make sure to factor in these potential costs when searching for properties in different areas. HOA fees can range anywhere from nothing to hundreds of dollars a month, depending on the neighborhood. Talk with your realtor or look on sites like Zillow to estimate how much you can expect to pay in fees and taxes.
- Explore local recreation, shopping, and dining options
- Poke around the area on AllTrails.com to research nature trails, hiking, and biking options nearby.
- You might be familiar with using TripAdvisor.com when on vacation, but you can also use it to research the best local restaurants and things to do in the area while scouting out your new place to live!
- Try searching for specific spots you know you will want to visit on Google Maps, such as certain kinds of gyms or specialty stores.
- Figure out commutes to work and school
- GreatSchools.org makes it easy to research and compare how nearby schools are rated in categories like academic progress, test scores, equity, and more.
- On WalkScore.com, you can find out any neighborhood’s Walk Score, Transit Score, Bike Score, and population.
- You can use this Commute Cost Calculator to calculate the cost of your commute over time. (Is the car really worth it? Maybe not, especially if the neighborhood has good Walk, Transit, and Bike scores!)
- Research local crime & safety
- MyLocalCrime.com gives you a map of recent arrests made in any area and shows you what type of crime was committed.
- You can use NSOPW.gov to look up whether there are any sex offenders in the area.
- It might be helpful to look up what doctor offices in your insurance network are nearby, as well as where the nearest hospitals are.
It might be tempting to start browsing through gorgeous home listings right away, but taking extra time at the start of your home search to thoroughly research cities and neighborhoods can pay off hugely in the long run. You might find that the spot you thought you wanted to move to isn’t quite as great as you heard it was, or discover a totally new area you’d never considered before!
In the next part of this series, we cover 5 essential steps to financially prep before jumping headfirst into house hunting. We’ve got you covered through every step of your home-buying journey!