6 Ways To Learn About A Neighborhood

Eric Stewart March 3, 2016

Picture of neighborhood

6 Ways To Learn About A Neighborhood

Buying a new home can be a major undertaking. You might not know everything about a neighborhood before you buy, but a little research can ensure you’re moving into the right one.

Knowing the quality of the schools, where the crime rates are lowest, and which areas are most desirable will not only affect your quality of living, but are also helpful in assessing your new home’s resale value. Here are six ways to learn the ins and outs of a neighborhood.

Overall Neighborhood Information

Type any address into Neighborhood Scout and its proprietary search algorithm provides a wealth of data including neighborhood demographics, average real estate prices, and what’s unique and notable about the neighborhood. Information on household income and diversity can tell you a lot about where you’ll feel at home even before you set foot in a new neighborhood.

For instance, last year I had $1 million+ listing in the Franklin Park neighborhood of McLean, VA, which sold in under a week. If you type in an address within the Franklin Park neighborhood, you will learn that the median real estate price is $795,138, 76.7% of the employed residents make a living as an executive, manager or other professional (19.8% of which are employed by the local, state or federal government), 17.4% of its residents are from Irish ancestry and besides attracting executives, this neighborhood may also be appealing to urban sophisticates and active retirees.

For Copenhaver, my local neighborhood in Potomac, MD, and three adjacent subdivisions, Neighborhood Scout reveals that most homes were built between 1970 and 1999, 10.7% of the residents have Russian ancestry, 75.8% of its residents are married, and the area is more family-friendly than 99.6% of the neighborhoods in the entire state of Maryland!

Walkability and Transit Access

Want to know how easy it is to walk to a nearby coffee shop, grocery store or local park? Go to Walk Score to get an overall rating on walkability. To learn about ease of access to public transportation, visit Transit Score. I recently put a house on the market on Leland Street in Bethesda, MD for $1.1 million. This location has a Walk Score of 94, which is considered a “walker’s paradise” and is a nine minute walk to the Red Line at the Bethesda metro station. With such a prime location, it went under contract in six days for over list price!

School Quality and Ratings

For buyers with children, the quality of schools can be an important factor on where to buy a new home. To learn more about a neighborhoods’ schools, visit GreatSchools, a non-profit organization that provides profiles and ratings for over 200,000 pre K – 12 public, charter, and private schools. You can search by city, zip code, address or school name.

Crime Rates

Crime Reports provides free up-to-the-minute maps and crime reports for local areas. The site also offers a free mobile application where you can opt to receive free crime alerts on a regular basis. For small communities, you may need to check directly with the police department.

If you are a parent, living alone or are often out late at night, you may also be concerned about sex offenders living in your neighborhood. The Department of Justice has consolidated this information at the National Sex Offender Public Website.

Visit During Different Times of the Day

If you have the ability, I recommend visiting a neighborhood at various times of the day and night. What’s the neighborhood like during a weekday morning versus a Saturday afternoon? Is there traffic noise from nearby highways or busy streets? How friendly is the neighborhood? Are children outside playing together or residents walking their dogs? If there is a homeowner’s association, how well is the neighborhood maintained? Are the streets and sidewalks clean or are they littered with debris? Are the street lights all working so that it’s safe to walk outside at night? Are the homes well kept or do some look a little worn with lawns that are overgrown?  If you see any neighbors outside, you may want to engage them in conversation and get their input on living in that particular subdivision.

City Master Plan

If you are thinking of moving to a neighborhood in a city that is undergoing continuous development, you may want to read through the city’s master plan to see if any future developments will affect where you want to live. What is a master plan? It is a comprehensive document developed by local government officials with input from residents that provides the long-range vision (up to 20 years in most instances) for a city or community. A typical master plan addresses transportation and traffic, community facilities, parks and open spaces, neighborhoods and housing, economic development, and land use.

Last fall, I sold a lovely home in the Rock Creek Knolls neighborhood, which is located in Chevy Chase, MD. While the home currently backs to the Capital Crescent Trail, this could be replaced by the proposed Purple Line, an extension of the metro which would run from Bethesda in Montgomery County, MD to New Carrollton in Prince George’s County, MD. The Purple Line, if it comes to fruition, will most likely affect the resale value of this home.

Since the proposed Purple Line would run adjacent to my client’s property, but not on it, the seller did not have an obligation to disclose the possibility of the metro extension. As it turns out, the eventual buyers were from out of town and were not aware of the Purple Line. A few months after they moved in, they received a letter in the mail from the local government about it and were quite upset they were not informed by their agent of the potential metro extension before they bought the house.

As the listing agent in this transaction, my fiduciary responsibility is to the seller. If I had been asked about the Purple Line by a potential buyer or their agent, I would have answered honestly what I knew, but it was not my obligation to disclose it either. The buyer’s agent should have done research about the local community as she represented the buyer’s interests, though the buyers were ultimately responsible.

The takeaway here is that if you are planning to buy a new home in an unfamiliar area, you may want to take it upon yourself to learn about the city’s master plan, which nowadays can typically be found online. If not, call the city’s local government to determine where you can review a physical document.

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