First Steps

How to Research Neighborhoods Before You Buy a Home

Published on: October 28, 2021

First-time homebuyers sometimes fall in love with a house because it has the features they want. But researching neighborhoods is as important as finding a home with an open floor plan or two-car garage. The neighborhood can affect a home’s value, and you want to ensure you love your neighborhood as much as you do a new home.

Many tools on the internet can assist your neighborhood research. Keep reading for details on ways to investigate new neighborhoods. 

Grading neighborhoods on property value

When you research areas before buying a house, you’ll notice that property values are higher in some neighborhoods. While high or low property values affect how much house you can afford in a specific neighborhood and how much you’ll pay in taxes, pay attention to whether property values are rising or falling. If property values are trending downward, you might not recoup your money in the future when you want to sell the house.  

Your real estate agent can show you sales data for the neighborhood indicating how property values are moving. You can also consult online home listing services for historical pricing data for individual houses, recent sales data for the neighborhood, and other neighborhood grades.

Grading neighborhood schools

First-time buyers may underestimate the importance of quality neighborhood schools when buying a home. Good schools make a neighborhood more attractive to buyers and help keep property values high.  

One factor that affects housing prices is how much the district spends on local schools. Districts that increase school expenditures experience higher housing values, according to a report by the National Bureau of Economic Research. 

You’ll find many online resources to help you research neighborhood schools: 

  • The federal government publishes per-pupil expenditures by school district for many districts in the country, making it easy to compare spending in neighboring areas. 
  • Great Schools, a nonprofit organization, rates schools on data such as test scores, college readiness, and student progress. 
  • School district websites provide information such as graduation rates, test data, and school performance profiles so you can see how well local schools are performing. 

Even if you don’t plan to have children, it’s worth researching local school ratings.

Grading your commute

Most of us have to go to the office at least a few times a week, and many employees are required to work onsite every workday, so commute times are a factor in any home purchase. How will the house you’re considering buying affect your commute? 

You may think you’re willing to drive an hour each way to live in a house you love, but you might quickly tire of spending 10 hours a week commuting. Before making an offer on a house, do a trial run of your commute, traveling from the house to your job at the normal time on a weekday to judge traffic. You may find consistent backups — which can be caused by something as simple as a poorly timed traffic light — and other traffic patterns that make the trip longer than expected. 

Rush hour may peak at different times in different locations. Consider whether you could adjust your work hours to avoid high-traffic times. 

If you’re looking for a home in an urban area, research public transportation options in the neighborhood. Owning a car and paying for parking in the city is expensive, so easy access to a bus or train is vital. 

If you’re ready to purchase a home in a great neighborhood, talk to a local Finance of America Mortgage Advisor today to learn more about your options.

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