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How to Buy Your Home in a Great Neighborhood

How to Buy Your Home in a Great Neighborhood

You've plunged in and decided buy your first home.  With a pre-approval in hand and a budget in mind, it's time to start the home search.  But where to start?

Unless you've lived in one town your whole life, and have decided to stay put, it's time to start looking into new neighborhoods. Finding the perfect home, only to find the neighborhood is a bit sketch, just won't do. In fact, the average time a homebuyer takes researching a neighborhood before deciding to buy is about 6 months.

So during those 6 months, what are they looking for? What should you be looking for? Read on to find out what makes a neighborhood great, and to discover a few resources that will help you find them.

What Makes a Neighborhood Great

The American Planning Association puts together a list of the Great Neighborhoods in America and further details the different characteristics and guidelines they look at to make this distinction. They recognize that great neighborhoods can be markedly different from each other; some are urban, suburban, small towns, downtown areas, and even villages. They can be the result of an organic process of building up, or be based on a specific layout plan.

According to the APA, characteristics of a great neighborhood include:

The 2013 list of Great Neighborhoods recognized by the APA can be found here and include neighborhoods such as Chinatown in San Francisco, Central Street Neighborhood in Evanston, Illinois, Kenwood in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Beaufort Historic District in Beaufort, South Carolina. Read up on these neighborhoods and figure out what you think would be most important to you so you can define if you're in search of an urban area or a small town.  Do you want your neighborhood to have a deep history and culture? Are parks important to you? Of course, a low crime rate is a must.

Now you know what you want in a neighborhood, at least the must-haves. Here are a few other tips that might help:

1. Your Needs

How far of a commute do you want to take? Make the drive on a typical Tuesday from the home to your place of work and see how it goes! Do you want to be close (maybe not too close) to friends and family? Do you have kids or plan to have kids? Look into the local schools! provides a wealth of information on school districts across the nation.  Get out and about in the neighborhood and imagine yourself living there.

2. Safety

When you visit the neighborhood/home, check out the other homes as well. Are they well maintained? Are there bars on the doors and windows? You also might want to try the potato chip bag trick. Go to a nearby store, buy a bag of potato chips, and eat them outside the store. Do you feel safe? This can speak a lot about the crime in your area. Go with your gut in this case as real estate agents aren't lawfully allowed to badmouth a neighborhood due to fair housing laws.

3. Resale Value

Although you plan on being in your new home forever, life can always happen, so it's a good idea to keep in mind factors that will help retain resale value. Factors to consider include proximity to schools, stores, and high employment areas. 

Chances are the local area has a website you can check out for community events, and the real estate agent likely can provide a ton of information. Buying a home is a big deal, a huge investment, and hopefully a happy ending! The more research and time you take the better. Don't rush yourself, afterall, if you're "average" it should take about 6 months.

How low will your payment be?