If you're in the market to buy a home or rent a home, finding the right location is crucial. You check out the schools and read neighborhood crime statistics. You time your commute and figure out where to buy groceries. But what could you be missing when it comes to evaluating a new neighborhood?
1. Where will you go to have fun?
It's natural to focus on proximity to your job when you're looking for a place to live. After all, you probably travel between home and the office more frequently than you travel anywhere else.
But don't forget to think about your downtime. Does the new place offer easy access to your favorite hobbies? Will you have to drive further in rush hour traffic to get your kids to their after school activities, or get up earlier on weekends to get to your favorite hiking trail? Make a list of the places you go most often to relax, and make sure getting there from your new home won't take all the fun out of it.
2. Read the fine print
Hidden in your community bylaws, there might be rules on what you can and can't do with your new home. The covenants, conditions and restrictions, also known as CC&Rs, govern things like whether you can paint your house, put a satellite dish up, keep a vehicle on the street, or store a boat. Make sure you understand all fees imposed by the community association, and factor them in when you're figuring out how much rent or mortgage payments you can afford.
3. Homeowner's association and property manager
The property manager or the homeowner's association will make a huge difference in your quality of life. You can look for obvious signs of their management abilities, such as whether the building is kept in good repair. But a more thorough search may be warranted. If the property is managed by a large company, you may be able to find ratings online. Talking to neighbors can be useful, and you might try searching the online archives of your local newspaper to see if the HOA has received any press–good or bad. Problems with the HOA may explain suspiciously low rents, and you want to know if the HOA has declared bankruptcy or imposed a special assessment on members.
4. Taxes and insurance
If you're moving to a new area, you may not be aware of the differences in taxes from one municipality to another. Property taxes can change dramatically when you cross a political border like the city limits or the county line, and some cities charge local income tax on top of what you're already paying to the state and the federal government. Car insurance may also be higher depending on where you park at night, so talk to your insurance company and your accountant before you make an offer or sign a lease. You don't want any expensive surprises.
Property listings usually tell you what kind of sewer and water access you'll have, but you may not think to check for other types of utilities. Will you be able to get high-speed Internet access in your new home? If you work from home, reliable Internet access and phone service is a must. You may also want to find out what cable companies provide the best service in the area. Cell phone reception has improved a lot in recent years, but pay attention to how many dropped calls you experience in your potential new neighborhood. You may find that you need to get a new carrier along with your new address.
6. Light and noise
The basketball hoop in the cul-de-sac seemed like a great indicator of a kid-friendly community when you were house hunting. But it's not so charming when the neighborhood teenagers are shooting hoops late into the night. If you're sensitive to noise or light, look around with an eye toward protecting your sleep. Busy roads, bus and train routes, bars and restaurants, street lights–if you love to be in the thick of things, you may be thrilled by the activity. If you're a light sleeper, you may want to invest in a white noise machine or find another neighborhood.
Being able to walk to a cafe, a library and a grocery store will save you money and keep you healthier, so don't forget to check the Walk Score of your new address. Who knows? Maybe you can do without a car altogether. If you're moving to a rural area, you can still think about potential walks from your home, but instead of walking to the bakery on a Saturday morning you may be walking across a field to have a cup of coffee with a neighbor, or walking to your favorite bird-watching spot in the woods. Take it a step further and look for bike lanes. A good network of bike lanes and well-kept sidewalks indicates a local government that is willing to invest in the health and safety of its constituents.
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