Finding the best neighborhood for a home and family depends so much on affordability, amenities and lasting value. What's best for a young family won't necessarily suit senior citizens looking to age in place. It pays to create a list of neighborhood features by elements including:
- Must have
- Bottom line
- No way
Are there jobs, schools, healthcare options, restaurants, theaters, parks and industries in the town? How's the crime rate? Is there a spiritual community suited to your faith? Is there a festival every year that brings 910,000 motorcycle riders to town?
The best place to begin is where most of the red flags arise: the cost of housing in the ideal community, or in the second and third-best options.
Of course, the first question in any survey of neighborhoods should ask whether you can afford the mortgage. LendingTree's Mortgage Calculator crunches numbers for estimates on monthly payments, including taxes, insurance, and PMI. Another question regarding affordability is whether the buyer is seeking Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac or Veteran's Administration mortgages that have loan limits pegged to the valuation of counties across the nation.
Valuation and Amenities
A neighborhood has more to do with home value than many people realize. A visit to the chamber of commerce or city planning department can yield key numbers on new businesses, new construction, and community improvements. What is the most recent unemployment rate reported for the community? In sum, the growth of jobs and amenities in a neighborhood says it's self-sustaining and an attractive community for building a family. Are there new medical facilities, vibrant colleges and universities, museums, parks, green belts, community gardens, or entertainment facilities nearby?
The research firm Accenture found that 76 percent of Americans feel safe in their current communities. However, 70 percent of homeowners reported that police need to do more within the community. Home-finder websites with listings often map properties in their zip codes against national averages. Police and sheriff's offices are good sources about crime rates in the community. Reported sex offenders in the community are listed at the National Sex Offender public website.
In most cities and suburbs, neighborhoods have their own tides of commute, school, or weekend traffic. Those driving to work or taking kids to school should map and drive the routes, look at commute alternatives, public transit, bike paths, or car pool lanes. For tech savvy home shoppers, there are mobile apps like Waze, ETA or others that map the quickest commute.
According to Realtor Magazine, realtors are prevented by The Fair Housing Act from disclosing school information. However, for the asking, any potential buyer has public access to school districts for information about enrollment and finances, discipline policy, public safety, and academic achievement. The magazine adds that even if children have already left the nest, a home near a school may yield increased value over other locations in the same community. And schools can mean additional police and fire coverage in the neighborhood.
At the same time, home shoppers may want to visit the neighborhood during the early morning and late afternoon to evaluate the rush of cars and buses around the school. For those locating near a high school, consider the lights, crowds, and traffic for sporting events.
Remember to check if there's a freeway planned for the peaceful cul-de-sac on your list!
And when you're ready to buy, make sure to comparison shop lenders on LendingTree to make sure you're getting the best rate possible on your new loan.