With an analytic background, I have often provided my clients with checklists to help them select a home. So they begin with my checklists or ones they have created themselves. However, at some point, most fall in love with a house, and it is all over. They want that house no matter how closely it matches the criteria. It reminds me of dating to some extent in that there are a number of potential spouses that may fit any number of criteria. But then, we find someone who that does not necessarily fit, and we fall in love. There is nothing we can do about it.
However, picking a neighborhood usually comes before picking the house, and clients are generally more likely to use a more analytic approach. Once, they select possible neighborhoods based on price range there are things we can do to evaluate neighborhoods and determine the ones that make the most sense to each individual or family. Additional criteria might involve:
Logistics – How close is the neighborhood to work, school, gym, recreation, shopping? You may want to test drive the morning and afternoon commute. Do you need to be close to one of the airports? Are there plans to change jobs or schools? Are there a good grocery store and a Home Depot nearby? Does your medical plan have nearby doctors? Are your healthcare needs changing? Is there a park nearby?
Ratings for Schools and Crime – My favorite tool relative to schools is on my favorite real estate site, HAR.com. At http://www.har.com/school/ one can search for public schools by their ratings. Other ratings sites can be found by searching online. As to crime, I like one of Trulia’s tools at www.trulia.com/local. Just put in an address and search. Then a heat map of crime in the area appears. Houston Police Department statistics can be found at http://www.houstontx.gov/police/cs/beatpages/beat_stats.htm.
Visiting the neighborhood – Drive through the neighborhood during the day and at night. Are yards well maintained? How many homes are for sale? Your Realtor can also provide neighborhood turnover rates (i.e., is it a stable or transient neighborhood?). Are cars parked on the streets? Are there children playing outside or are there other indications of children in the neighborhood? While several sites provide neighborhood demographic info, most are based on zip code and not a specific neighborhood. Do most of the streets end in the neighborhood or are there a number streets passing through the neighborhood from commercial areas? Do many of the homes have burglar bars?
Neighborhood website and neighborhood newsletter – Visit the neighborhood and/or homeowner’s association website for information about neighborhood events, crime, and deed restrictions, and electronic versions of newsletters. While searching for the neighborhood website, review other information and sites coming up in the search for other related information.
Talk to the neighbors – Your future neighbors either love or hate the neighborhood and schools. And, they will tell you all about it. It is easier to talk to someone if they are outside walking or working in their yard. You can increase the chance of meeting someone if you also walk the neighborhood. This also provides some idea about your own comfort in the neighborhood. However, it is worthwhile to talk to someone, even if you have to knock on a door. You can enlist your Realtor to help you. Your Realtor may already know someone in the neighborhood.
Flooding and flood insurance – In Houston, many areas are within a flood plain. A useful website for preliminary searching is www.harriscountyfemt.org. However, before finalizing a search in the area you will want to discuss the flood plain status with your insurance agent. It has become more important recently because, unless the law is changed, the federal government plans to quit subsidizing flood insurance. Over the next several years, in many parts of Houston and Harris County, flood insurance will become more expensive than homeowner’s insurance.
Miscellaneous – In Houston, you may want to determine if there are future plans or open land in the area that may be used for apartments or commercial uses that could impact the quality of life. Are you concerned about power lines, do you want utilities buried? Are there trains that will be noisy or block intersections? There are also websites, such as www.neighborhoodscout.com and www.har.com/neighborhoods that are useful in helping to select a neighborhood.
Do you have other criteria or tools you found useful? Happy searching.