Odds are you’ve spent a fair amount of time visualizing your ideal home, but have you invested time in considering the neighborhood?

Many buyers get so caught up in the details of the home they’ve fallen in love with that they forget to step back and take a close look at the neighborhood as well.

Have you ever lived in a place where your next door neighbor made you miserable?  Ever live near a motorcycle enthusiast who left for rides at 6 a.m. on the one day a week you wanted to sleep in?  Were there a couple kids who got their kicks by pestering your pets?  Did the HOA measure the length of your grass, dictate the color scheme of flowerbeds or prohibit you from parking your work vehicle in your driveway overnight?  Perhaps things got so quiet at night that it felt spooky to you?  Or maybe your bank’s closest ATM was 25 minutes away?

There are all sorts of neighborhood factors that will impact your happiness with your new home, so it’s best to think about them before you commit to a particular property.

In some parts of the country, you will have a diligence period to research everything that’s important to you about a home, including the area where it’s located, before you make a final commitment to purchase.  In that instance, you can feel comfortable locking down the house first and then doing your research, because if you discover something objectionable, you’ll have an opportunity to back out.

However, in many other areas of the country, contracts call for inspection periods rather than diligence periods.  The biggest difference between the two is the reasons for which you can back out a deal.  In states with diligence periods, you don’t even need a reason, as long as you back out before an agreed upon date.  In states with inspection periods, there is a more limited list of factors that are allowable reasons for backing out. Typically, dissatisfaction with the neighborhood is not one of them.  In those cases, it is critical to check out the neighborhood before going under contract.

Would any of these items be issues for you?
An HOA that’s either militant or extremely relaxed about enforcing neighborhood rules.
The lack of an intersection light at the exit of your neighborhood.  (Think left turns during rush hour traffic.)
Dogs that bark excessively or owners who don’t pick up after their pets when walking them.
Sirens from a nearby firehouse.
Neighbors who either stay to themselves or try to be involved in everyone’s business.
Private roads that the state or local municipalities do not maintain, meaning you and your neighbors are on the hook for any repairs.
Traffic volume through the neighborhood.
Too close or too far from the hospital, your doctor’s office, your bank, your kid’s school, your work, restaurants, cultural events, or recreational areas.
Neighbors who don’t maintain their properties to your standards.

 

If any of those (or any of a million other factors that may be important to you) would cause you to reconsider a home, here’s how to do your homework (every pun intended) to find out if they’ll be a problem.
1. Visit the neighborhood on several occasions and at different times of day.
Does it have the same or a different vibe at night than during the day?
Is it quieter or noisier?
Who do you see and what are they doing?
Is that consistent with the neighborhood you imagine for yourself?
2. Knock on neighbor’s doors, introduce yourself and ask questions.

Do they seem friendly and welcoming?  Are they distant or a little TOO friendly?
Do they know why the current owners are moving?
How long have they lived there?
What do they love about living there?  What do they wish was different?
If they had it to do over again, would they buy in the neighborhood?
Can they tell you the names of the neighbors or do they seem not to know them?
Is there anyone in the neighborhood whom people try to avoid?
Are there any regular neighborhood gatherings?  Picnics?  Holiday parties?

 

  1. If there is an HOA, ask your buyer’s agent to obtain copies of the:
    1. Covenants and restrictions
    2. By-laws
    3. Neighborhood rules
    4. Current annual budget
    5. Minutes from the past two years of Board of Director meetings

Then read them.  Make sure you can live with the rules because it could be expensive to defy the rules once you own the home.  Review the meeting minutes to learn if there are discussions about future assessments or on-going problems.

 

  1. Call the local municipality (city, town or county) and ask for someone who can tell you:
    1. Are the streets public or private?
    2. Are there any current or proposed assessments planned?
    3. If you plan to operate a business out of your home, what are the regulations?
    4. Is construction of any new roads, businesses or residential developments planned for the area?

 

  1. Call the local law enforcement office and ask to speak with the public information officer. Ask:
    1. What types of crimes have been reported in this neighborhood in the past 12 months?
    2. Are there any registered sex offenders living nearby?
    3. Would they be comfortable with a member of their family living in that area?

It’s easy to overlook some of these details when you’re in love with a house, but the time to learn about neighborhood problems is before they become YOUR neighborhood problems.