Covered Home Buying Guide - Finding the Right Neighborhood

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As Americans, we might be spoiled for choices in many areas of life. That’s great — except when we need to whittle down that list of choices. Zeroing in on a handful of target neighborhoods when you’re buying a home can be challenging, to say the least.

In sales, there’s a saying: “Every no gets you closer to a yes.” This is also true in decision making, like picking the right neighborhood, but with this process, we have different goals. The “nos” are simply neighborhoods you no longer have to consider.

But be careful! Trimming the list of neighborhoods too far can leave you with slim pickings, eliminating not just options but also some bargaining power. It’s harder to walk away when you feel like you have very few choices. There are so many things to consider, and it’s not as simple as choosing the area of town you like best. Do you want to live amongst the buzz and business of the big city, or settle outside of town by a little > (The suburbs) or a LOT > (rural areas and small towns). Are school choices part of your consideration? What about crime rates, commuting and transportation options, home/property values, and community resources? Read on for some of our tips and suggestions!

Suburban Life

When we think of home buying, we often think of suburbs in our perfect-home daydreams. Every ad for home services seems to have a suburban home as the focal point we’d all identify with. Those advertising folks are right. More than half of us describe where we live as suburban, and many of the rest of us have lived in the suburbs at some point.

Most suburbs, while close to a city, aren’t necessarily tied to that city for work or entertainment. With so many people living in the suburbs, many of the city’s attractions have set up shop in the burbs, right where the people are. And because so many people live in the suburbs, more home choices are available. You’ll find anything from condos and zero-lot line developments that save on yard work to traditional single-family homes, and even a few homes that remind you of rural living, but without the long drives.

Suburbs are often a mix of new and old housing. Areas further from the city might find more new stock as suburbia sprawled and housing was built. Areas closest to the city were the first suburbs. Brick homes with smaller yards are more common.

Each of these suburban neighborhoods or developments has its own personality. Visiting a few areas that seem interesting at different times of the day will give you a good idea of what to expect. Look at more than just the people. Maybe at rush hour, traffic is backed up as far as you can see, or maybe it’s smooth sailing. If you’re buying a new home, you’ll probably want to get back to your new home without losing two hours to traffic jams every day.

Urban Living

City living as a homeowner can range from brownstone row homes to chic condos. Each area has its own feel, but budget can be a driving force in urban home choices. Trendier areas or areas closest to work centers are often more expensive. Depending on location, owning a car can be challenging as well due to parking restrictions in many cities.

If you like the bright lights and the fast pulse of city life, the suburbs may feel like too much of a compromise. As a bonus, a strong job market for skilled workers in cities can hasten your upward mobility.

As an interesting trend called “urban infill”, many empty lots and older properties in cities are being rebuilt as postmodern dwellings, creating diverse neighborhoods of both old and ultra-new.

Rural Areas

People who live in cities and suburbs might not think of rural areas as neighborhoods, but in their own way, rural areas are often tightly knit communities, with locals going to the same schools and churches, shopping at the same stores, and attending the same social functions.

Sure, it might take a while to get to the grocery store or gas station. That’s extra thinking time, watching the hills and fields and farms go by. The cost of elbow room is frequently a bit less convenience. You’ll likely have a lot more space, and plenty more space between your home and wherever you need to go.

Work is a big consideration in rural areas. Fewer jobs are available in more remote areas and most of the higher-paying work gravitates to the cities and denser suburbs. Yard work is another big one. Mowing the lawn has a different meaning when the lawn is the size of a football field! Still, it’s a quieter way of living, and one that can have value you simply can’t measure in dollars.

Safety & Livability

Areas with higher crime rates are often less expensive, but unless there’s active or planned redevelopment, there isn’t much reason to expect these areas will become safer. To get a snapshot of recent activity, CrimeReports is a good resource. For an idea of overall livability, we like using AreaVibes. This is a unique and useful tool that can help you weigh your options in each neighborhood you are interested in and rates such factors as cost of living, crime rates, local amenities, and more.

Foreclosures

The real estate crash left the housing market teetering in much of the country and even years later the dominos are still falling. It isn’t uncommon to have a foreclosure or two in the nearby area. When there are dozens, however, those empty homes can affect crime, home values, and home sales. Zillow has a great tool to view foreclosures in a given area.

Why Schools are Important

Even if you don’t have kids, areas with great schools are worth considering. Much of the homebuying activity centers around families — and families love good schools.

Homes located in better school districts tend to have more demand, leading to higher long-term home values and a healthier market when you need to sell. We tend to live in a house for less than 10 years, on average, and it often passes faster than you might expect. GreatSchools is a wonderful resource for researching schools, whether for your own kids or just to buy a home in an in-demand neighborhood.

Set up alerts

Home sites like Zillow and Trulia let you set up email alerts for homes that match your criteria. You might even find your dream home in your morning email while sipping your coffee. You can filter by area, by number of rooms, or by a several other must-haves to hone your list to just those homes that are a match.

Summing it up

Buying a home is a massive commitment, and not just the mortgage and upkeep. Finding out you don’t like the neighborhood after you’re already there isn’t a problem with an easy solution. A little honest soul-searching can help avoid homebuying missteps and land you in your dream home in your dream neighborhood. Sometimes, where that is or the type of home you choose will even be a surprise to you!

After you’ve picked out your dream home, let one of our dedicated insurance advisors give you a quote on home insurance to protect your investment. We’ll find you the best value from our leading insurance providers so you can focus on everything else that will make your house a home.

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