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Getting the Home Buying Scoop on Cities, Towns, and Neighborhoods

By Eleanor Boschert

The Internet is now the primary tool prospective buyers use to start their search. Most cities have their own websites touting services, demographics, education, businesses, and communities. To gather even more comprehensive data, check out national sites such as:

City Data

Neighborhood Scout

Street Advisor

Once you find your city, go exploring. Nothing beats roaming around a community yourself. Go to the city center. Specific neighborhoods. Drive or walk around at different times of the day to get a feel for activity. How's the parking, lighting, traffic, roads, noise?

Your Mass Realty real estate agent is a great resource. They have access to housing data, sales, market trends, and viability, through their networks of associates or MLS (Multiple Listing Service.)

Talk to people in the community. Business owners, potential neighbors, parents, city officials. Nobody knows more about a neighborhood than those who live there and keep it humming.

While you're playing neighborhood detective, weigh what is important to you. Think about safety, accessibility, amenities, lifestyle, city services and home appreciation values. Consider the following factors:

  • How's it All Look and What's It Worth
    Location sets the stage for value. Get the lay of the land about overall property values. They give you an idea of a community's overall financial health. What are homes selling for and what has been the trend year-over-year? Don't forget property taxes. Has there been many increases?
    You can also get a picture of property values and activity at the county courthouse. What are the foreclosures, evictions, absentee owners, liens or other legal proceedings?
    Conduct a neighborhood inspection as well as a home inspection. Check out sidewalks and streets. Are the homes well-maintained? Well-maintained areas and properties indicate responsive city services and good neighbors. How's the greenery and open spaces? Parks, playgrounds, recreation areas are a sign of city funds well spent.
  • How Safe is It
    Safety takes top billing in considering a city or community. You can get comprehensive crime data, including information on registered sex offenders in the community at Neighborhood Scout or City-Data. Get a feel for a neighborhood and start asking around. Visit the local police station. Talk to neighbors. Are there neighborhood watch groups?
  • How Healthy is the Economy
    Talk to local shop and business owners. Is business good? How are the jobs? Inquire about plans for commercial and residential development. Not only will these reflect the vitality of the community, but also the values of homes.
  • How Involved is the Community
    Residents invested in a community is a good thing. An active school board, governing body, city council, alderman, help keep the city running effectively and efficiently. Are there city blogs or online community groups actively discussing issues andresolutions?
  • Are the Schools Up to Speed
    Whether you have kids now, or plan to in the future, schools are one of the most important factors to consider in a community. They also heavily influence your resale value. Neighborhoods with quality school districts attract buyers and can command higher prices.
    Get comprehensive details on schools on sites such as School Digger. Consider test scores, student-teacher ratios, average class size and special-education classes, the culture of the school. Scope out blogs by parents at local schools.
    Take it to the streets. Make an appointment to tour the local school. Speak with parents to get a feel for parent involvement. What are the school's features, strengths, and weaknesses?
  • How Easy is it to Get Around
    Assess the convenience and availability of public transportation. Bus stops, train schedules, bike paths. Driving and walking. Is there easy access to major roads? How crazy is the commute? Determine the walkability of an area.
  • What Does the City Offer
    City services are core to keeping your home and life running smoothly. You can check services online or go to City Hall. Talk to neighbors. How is trash and recycling pick up? Fundamentals such as water, sewer, storm maintenance, power availability, sidewalks, roads, trees need to be in tip-top shape.
  • What Does Your Neighborhood Offer
    Unearth what is close by. Check out shopping areas, restaurants, grocery stores, and service providers. Are there community services and major facilities such as hospitals, police and fire departments nearby? If you live for that morning cup of coffee or evening out, what are the hours of local establishments?
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