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It may be a cliche, but it's one of the most important issues in your new home purchase. The perfect house in a neighborhood you hate will never feel like home. Now that you've figured out the type of home you want, let's think about where you'd like it to be.

What is it that is most important to you and how far away will you have to move to get it? Is this going to be a major change in your lifestyle? Are you thinking of moving out of the area or just looking for something in the city where you live now?

There are several components that go into making a "good" neighborhood for most people. It should be safe, close to things that are important to you (good schools or big parks), and should offer the services that you depend on, such as healthcare and convenient shopping.

In addition to these qualities the intangibles can be even more important to some home owners. Things like ambiance and curb appeal are elements to consider. A squeaky clean new neighborhood and an old, historic lived-in area feel very different. Both can be safe and have the desired services, but one will probably say "home" while the other says "get me out of here!"

If you need help in choosing a new city check out Home Fair's database of over 500 cities nationwide for things like cost of living and crime rates to narrow down your choices. Also, get hold of the latest copy of the "Places Rated Almanac," which ranks over 350 metro areas according to things like weather, education, and recreational facilities.

Once you have a better idea of the area you're interested in, it's time to find out more about it. Thanks to the Internet you can take a virtual tour of almost anyplace in the world from the comfort of your La-Z-Boy.

First stop is Yahoo!'s "Get Local." Enter in the name of a town or even a zip code and the search engine will come back with just about everything you can imagine about your new area. Not only will it give you a list of all of the businesses with websites in that town, it also has information on the current weather forecast, the local sports scores, and even links to the mayor and dating services.

One more source of information you might look into is Realtor.com. You can find a realtor by city and state, or by zip code. You can also search by neighborhoods, to find one like your own, or a neighborhood near a given address. "Find one like your own" may take you to very generally similar categories (like "suburban") but you may find it useful nonetheless.

Now it's time to actually get out of your recliner and go check out things firsthand. Buy a good local map of the area you're interested in. Look for distinguishing features like parks, schools, hospitals, and police stations. Are there any natural boundaries that will "mark" your neighborhood? Rivers, large hills, and major highways often delineate one area from another in character and focus.

On a weekend day, take a drive around the area. What's it like? Take our checklist with you and make a note of your observations. Then do it again after work one weekday evening.

  • Are there children playing outside unattended? (Children playing is often an indication of how safe their parents feel.)

  • Is there too much traffic? Being next to an interstate may make it easier to get to work but it also brings things you may not like, such as noise and congestion.

  • Does it smell funny? Will you wake up every morning to the odors of a trash incinerator? Does it smell nice? Is there a doughnut shop or manufacturer that gives off yummy wafts? (There's a neighborhood that I've always envied in Baltimore near the McCormick Spice plant.)

  • What does it sound like? Can you hear airplanes or trains? What about sirens? Are those children who are playing outside going to make you smile or drive you nuts?

  • How does it look? Are there public utility substations nearby? What about broadcasting towers or junkyards? Even that park that you're so happy to be close to might have lights for night games that could make you crazy.

Your home will be more than what's inside your four walls. You'll be a part of a community of people and an area with a history. Now is a good time to decide what kind of place you'd like to call home. If you're interested in a planned community, we've got the scoop.