Street Scouting 101

8 Tips to Choosing a Good Neighborhood

There have been select moments in our lives when, in the heat of the moment, we took our eye off the big picture for a second, and it came back to haunt us. After four diligent months of dieting, we cleaned out a week’s supply of extra-large everything-on-it pizzas from the corner joint–three days before our 20th high school reunion. Or we wore the cute shoes instead of the comfortable ones on that eight-mile hike with our Everest-trained in-laws. Or we let our new boyfriend talk us into eating an extra-grande  bowl of refried beans right before our three-hour meditation class (which takes place in a silent room with forty other women, and has no ventilation whatsoever).

We’ve all been there. And it’s okay. But if there is one time in our life not to let our eye stray from the big picture, it’s when we’re house hunting. And here’s the curve ball: we’re not talking about the house itself.

We’re talking about the neighborhood.

Even though it’s easy to swoon over a bunch of shiny kitchen and bath pictures, the truth is, the house itself can be changed. You know what can’t be changed? Your neighbors. (At least, not without some very creative maneuvering on your part.) So before you start gravitating toward that picturesque home from the ad like a moth to the flame, stop and look around. Then use these 8 tips to vet what you see.

1. Through rain or shine. You visited the house, and it was the most peaceful street you have ever beheld in your life. There’s just one catch: there was six feet of snow on the ground that day. The odds are pretty good it put a slight damper on the usual activities of the locals. Come back when the weather is less intimidating in order to get the real scoop.

2. Come again. Maybe the street passed inspection on your first visit. But then again, maybe everyone living on the street was partying it up at Burning Man that week. So visit more than once, and come at different times of the day. Tranquility tends to fluctuate with the daily routine, and the more sneak peeks you can take at the schedule, the easier it will be for you to decipher what the routine actually is in your would-be neighborhood.

3. Under cover of darkness. It might sound like overkill to visit a neighborhood at night, but think this through for a moment. What do you do at night? You sleep. What conditions would you say are ideal for sleeping? Probably not raucous block parties that run from dusk till dawn. Do some sleuthing after the sun goes down to figure out when things simmer down for the evening.

4. Visit the neighbors. One of the best ways to get an idea of what a neighborhood is like is to ask the people who are already living in it. Plant yourself on the sidewalk and strike up conversations with them as they stroll by walking their dogs. You might be surprised what you find out.

5. Visit the neighbors’ neighbors. After a good amount of detective work, you’ve concluded that your prospective community is a safe bet. But did you think to check the one next door? Word to the wise: don’t leave it out of your inspection. The thing about block parties is that they can usually be heard well beyond their own blocks.

6. Trust not the real estate agent. Your real estate agent is paid to know everything there is to know about the houses you look at. But that job description doesn’t extend to knowing the neighborhoods, too. The really bad apples might even lie to you about the quality of the neighborhood on purpose just to get the sale. Buyer beware.

7. Map it out. How far away are the grocery stores from this place? The schools? The urgent care? The police and fire stations? What’s the traffic going to be like for your morning commute? Is the neighboring community composed mainly of gentlemen’s clubs and liquor stores? Do the research before you buy the house.

8. Spot the red flags. Generally speaking, shady neighborhoods come peppered with red flags–you just have to keep an eye out for them. If you’re seeing a lot of graffiti, fences in disrepair, “for sale” signs, or patches of questionable leafy vegetation growing in remote corners of the yards, it’s probably a reflection on the quality of the neighbors. You’re going to want to search elsewhere for that “Welcome to the neighborhood!” apple pie.


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Kristine Serio
Kristine Serio is an editor and writer with Author Bridge Media. Her real estate roots stretch back to her grandfather, who launched a profitable second career as an investor during the 1950s. She is now passionate about empowering women through real estate writing. Her authors and entrepreneurs have been featured in The New York Times, O: the Oprah Magazine, and the San Diego Union Tribune.
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