Like most New Yorkers, especially those with families, moving out of New York City is usually what happens next. When you’re baby has to sleep in your cramped one-bedroom because there’s no room, or when Junior is entering high school and needs to live in a good public school district, there comes the inevitable. It’s easy to find a nice suburb with lots of trees and parks. Finding a community in which buyers can relate to is trickier. You want a town with a café where you’ll inevitably run into your new friend from yoga. You’ll know who shops on Main Street, and which to avoid. You’ll meet some people at the local restaurant, find out they both went to Amherst or Bowdoin, and—voila!—instant friends. These are the markers of class, but they are also about survival. You want those things to happen. Otherwise, besides the square footage of your new colonial, what was the point of it all?
Sometimes it’s not just the house, it’s the lifestyle. And these days, if you’re buying into a community rather than buying a community, you’ll find it easier to match your house with your desired lifestyle. These, in essence, are the intangibles.
To assuage the difficulty, here are some real estate tricks of the trade.
Like a dating site, a strategist will be assigned to you so they can find out everything you want, even the nitty gritty before they put you in touch of real estate agents. Once they know all about you and what you want, they will go with you to visit homes with local agents. The point of the service is that, after all the back and forth, a local will inevitably go to work for you to uncover the “personality of the town.” Not just the gazebo on the green but how long it takes to reach the Merritt Parkway. Or where to buy the best gummy worms for your kid.
Cost: The firm receives a share of the commission if a home purchase is made
Founded in 2002, Neighborhood Scout is the nationwide neighborhood search engine and provider of location-based analytics for real estate investors, mortgage professionals and homebuyers. Using hundreds of search criteria, including demographics and real estate data, this paid service also provides crime statistics and other important local data to help you decide if a neighborhood is right for you.
Cost: $79 a month
City-Data is like NeighborhoodScout, but a little more like a CIA shopping for a new house because of all the ways it uses the government for background research. City-Data collects and analyzes data from a variety of government and private sources. In doing so, City-Data is able to create detailed, informative profiles for every single city in the United States. While their info on crime rates are eerie and their focus on weather patterns is a little way too much, you’ll still probably find the data you need to find the perfect house and community.
If you’re willing to spend the money, these firms will get you to your goal. But most of what they do, you can do yourself. Here are a few things you can do on your own to ensure you don’t end up in Glouster rather than Guilford.
- Think of the Children
If you’re planning on having a baby, or if you now have children, the first thing you need to do is check out the neighborhood to see if it has an excellent school system and some good parks where you can bring baby for a stroll. Even if you’re single, living in an area with a much sought-after school system raises your property value. Not to mention educates the kids!
- Do the streets have curb appeal?
- Are the houses well-maintained?
- Are there a lot of “for sale” signs, which is perhaps an indication that this city is not thriving and is no longer desirable to residents? Make sure you do your sleuthing to find out.
- Are the shops and restaurants busy, which means are there signs of life?
- If you like Starbucks, note how far it is from your street. If it is actually miles away, and in another town. this may be a deal-breaker, especially If you can’t wake up every day without having a grande coconut milk mocha macchiato,
- Can you walk to restaurants and shops? Is there a café you like that you can get to by foot? On Sundays, is there a restaurant you go to that’s local so you can be local and have brunch and mimosas?
- Are there tree-lined sidewalks?
- Are the streets well-lit at night?
- If you have a dog, where will you walk it?
These questions are by all means not exhaustive. If you do find one house that meets your criteria but still feels wrong, move on and continue your search. Trust your gut feeling: If you can’t picture yourself there, or you feel something is off, bolt. Buying a house is not just stressful. It is also an emotional process that can drain you from all the selections. To see all the homes you like, and to find they’re all in good locations, can be a true bummer when you realize you can’t afford any of them. The next time you want to buy a house, save more first and make sure you are always very under budget. This isn’t the time to be sad or frustrated. Be thorough and vigilant in your search and always remember that this is an exciting time, your chance of being able to start anew. There may be bargaining, there may be humbling, but all that effort will be worth it in the end once you actually attain a house that’s in your ideal location.