Before buying a home, do a little research into the amenities and features of your future community. You’ll want to make sure the neighborhood has the kind of schools, transportation and recreational facilities you want. And you don’t want to move in only to find that you’re on a flood plain.
Researching the community is as vital as getting a house inspection. A local real estate agent can help you get the information you need. You can also check with the other sources of information provided here.
Use our checklist to make sure you’ve covered key local information:
- Housing stock. Find out the average age and purchase price of homes in the area to determine whether you’re looking in an area that’s within your budget and where the costs of maintaining a home aren’t too high. Also look at the ratio of renters versus owners and the amount of remodeling in the area. This could be an indicator of how well residents are satisfied with the community, as people who enjoy an area are more likely to remain in it and reinvest in their homes. You can get this information from your REALTOR® or the Census Bureau.
- Economy. Check with the local Chamber of Commerce for information about businesses, real estate costs, taxes, jobs and cost of living in the area. Investigate employment statistics and look through the career ads in the local newspaper.
- Home ownership. The median age and income of the residents in the community is an indicator of the community’s character. Communities with many elderly people are apt to be quieter and more sedate, whereas areas with younger residents may have more children, schools and kids’ recreational opportunities. You can get this information from the Census Bureau.
- Recreation. Do you like going to the theater? Love biking, running or golf? Need pools and parks for your children? Take a drive and see if the amenities in the community fit your lifestyle. The local Chamber of Commerce can provide information, too.
- Transportation. Will you be able to get to work quickly and easily? Are the roads properly maintained? Is the traffic a nightmare or smooth sailing? If you do not have a car, is there public transportation to work, schools and shopping? Check out scheduled road or highway construction with the local planning department.
- Schools. How far away are they? Have students tested well in recent math and reading tests? What is the spending-per-student ratio? You can get this information by contacting the city or county school board. Be sure to visit schools and talk to teachers and other parents, too.
- Environment. Check to see if your house is on a flood plain, next to a toxic waste handling facility, or an industrial water or exhaust outlet. This information is available at HUD’s Environmental Resources or Envirofacts, which is run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. You can enter the zip code of the area into the Environmental Defense Fund’s Scorecard to see its rating in terms of waste, air quality, land quality, water contamination, etc. A review of the community’s public health data to see if residents have many problems associated with environmental contamination may be useful as well.
- Crime. Call the local police precinct and ask for the community liaison or public information officer. He or she can give you a picture of personal and property crime in the area. The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports are also available online and list crimes by type, number and area. If you are concerned about crime rates, you may want to look into gated communities or buildings with doormen.