12 Ways to Research a Neighborhood Before Buying a House

When you decide it’s officially time to buy a new house, you’ll want to be sure to do all your research to identify the best homes to fit your needs. But it's not just the house-hunting you'll want to be diligent about when you begin. You’ll need to do a little recognizance on the neighborhood you want to move to, as well. 

Knowing more about the community you plan to join might even be the step you take before you begin looking at available houses for sale. Your absolute dream house could turn into a nightmare if it’s located in the not-so-ideal neck of the woods. Reviewing neighborhood ratings by zip code along with some of these other metrics will help you with your research in identifying the perfect community for you.

1. Neighborhood Ratings by Zip Code

If you browse sites like AreaVidbes.com or Niche.com, you can see various data points and resident reviews of specific areas. Family WatchDog and Neighbhorhoodscout.com are also great apps worth exploring to learn more about a place before choosing to buy a home there. Start with the metrics you can find within some of these platforms to evaluate neighborhood ratings by zip code.

2. Check the Community Website Directly

Nearly every town and municipality has its own dedicated website. And while not all of these sites are super informative, they can provide insights about local parks and recreation, community calendars of events, and governing bodies. So if you’re thinking about moving to Easton, PA, for example, you can visit www.Easton-PA.com to see more about the community offerings there. And if the neighborhood that interests you doesn’t have much to offer on the website, consider calling or emailing one of the community leaders you find there for more information or better resources.

3. Review the Schools and Daycare Providers

If your family unit includes little people, you’ll want to do extensive homework to review the safety and prominence of the local schools in your new neighborhood. And if you have super-tiny people in your family, you’ll likely need to explore reliable daycare providers in the area, as well. GreatSchools.org is an excellent neighborhood information website to help you find reviews, curriculum, and athletics program ratings by the community. You can also look to the various childcare apps to find area providers.

4. Go There and Walk Around

Don’t be afraid to visit an area in person and explore the neighborhood on foot. You can even check out tools like Walk Score to determine an official walkability score. It’s kind of like a neighborhood rating by zip code, only it relates to walking distances and convenience. A low walkability score means you’ll probably spend most of your time driving places. A higher walkability score implies that access to area amenities is easy to get to on foot.

Walking around in a neighborhood first-hand will also allow you to see the area for yourself. Remember, when you're browsing homes for sale online, you won’t likely see eyesores down the street like a walk for yourself will reveal. Boots on the ground is a great way to explore the entire look and feel of a neighborhood before you choose to invest there.

5. Don’t Be Afraid to Connect with Neighborhood Residents

Sometimes the best way to get authentic feedback about lifestyles and amenities in a specific community is by talking to those who live there. Of course, you can find feedback online with a general neighborhood ratings by zip code search. But you can also find community groups on social media where you’ll find people are usually more than willing to share their thoughts.

6. Researching Neighborhood Crime Rates

Buying a house with bad neighbors is one thing. But buying a home in a questionable neighborhood overall is another. Crime statistics matter, especially if you plan to move your family with children. There are several great neighborhood information websites dedicated to reporting crime metrics, like CityProtect.com and CrimeGrade.org. Just remember to keep the data in context when comparing a community's population density. There’s no such thing as a 100 percent safe city. But these are the stats you’ll want to know before deciding if an area is safe enough for you and your family.

7. Drive a Trial Run of Your Commute

Moving to a new area means also taking on a new commute to work. If the community you have your eye on lies outside of a major metropolitan area, you may want to experience that drive for yourself. Take a day to drive around, including a few drives to and from the office, the grocery store, and other hotspots. Sample those commutes during peak driving hours, too, so you have a true understanding of what morning and evening traffic will look like in your new zip code. Googling the distance online will only show the miles. Driving it first-hand will demonstrate how much time you’ll need to spend in the car.

8. Community Facebook Groups

To really find the good, the bad, and the ugly, find some of the local Facebook groups developed for the neighborhood you have in mind. There you can find answers to all kinds of questions like what time the parade starts or where the city wide garage sales are located. And while you'll have to sort through some unpopular opinions (every town group has them,) you'll definitely get a better sense of community from exploring these neighborhood Facebook groups. You might even keyword search within the group “new to the area” and see if there are past conversations you can read through to find insights.

9. Don’t Forget to Check the Local Newspaper

Many experts suggest checking the local newspaper, whether in print or online, to get a better sense of a community’s engagement. For example, you can find local nonprofit businesses and charitable groups in the area. And the listings and stories featured can highlight school system events, seasonal festivals, and farmer’s markets. Most neighborhood newspapers also feature community stats that you might find helpful to your home buying process as well. As outdated as a newspaper publication might seem, it’s still a great way to keep a finger on the living pulse of a neighborhood and window to local goings-on.

10. Study the Property Value Trends in the Neighborhood

The housing market is hot right now, meaning a lot of people are exploring their options to sell and buy elsewhere. But property value trends over the past few years matter and can help educate you about a neighborhood you’re considering. Look to see if this community is experiencing growth or if the property values over time have dropped. 

There are plenty of real estate apps and sites, including Zillow.com, that share these value metrics. You can also compare listings there of other homes for sale on the block or down the street. If an area’s property values are dropping significantly, indicating people are leaving, it could be a sign that the community is underfunded, which would affect parks, schools, and other programs in the area. Of course, past trends like these mean it’s a bad neighborhood. But knowing these details may sway your decision to move there.

11. Spend a Day Exploring

In addition to walking the neighborhood and sampling the driving commute, consider spending a day in your new zip code exploring. Find the gym or coffee shop you’ll frequent. Stop into the local shops or introduce yourself to the dry cleaner. In a sense, consider this as your opportunity to spend a day in the life of your future lifestyle. Check out the restaurant options or hike the local trails. After spending a day or two experiencing the area, especially with your family, it will help you decide if moving to the neighborhood is going to be a good fit. 

12. Work with a Real Estate Professional Who Knows

One of the best ways to research a neighborhood before buying a house is by working with a seasoned real estate professional who knows the area. Working with the team at Homeway Real Estate, for example, means having many of those beginner neighborhood search answers at your fingertips. Our local real estate professionals are experts in the various communities around the Lehigh Valley and in the know regarding many of the local stats. But you can also find those hidden gems of a neighborhood when you have the right partner helping you find your dream home. Look beyond the listings with a call to one of the Homeway team members who can help you with all the neighborhood research you need to make the best-fit home-buying decision.

When you think you’re ready to take the next step to finding your dream home in your dream neighborhood, let the team Homeway Real Estate help! If you have questions about buying a house in one of the many Lehigh Valley community neighborhoods, contact us today. And if it’s time to explore moving options, let our professionals guide you to the most ideal neck of the woods you’ll love to call home.

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