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How to's and money-saving tips from resident homeowner and mortgage professional, Cathy West

Finding the perfect neighborhood

Tips for finding the perfect neighborhood

When buying a new home, location is just as important as the property itself. Not only do you want to find something with a reasonable commute and neighbors you'll like, but you'll also want to make sure the surrounding area fits well with your lifestyle and needs. Make sure to think about these subjects before making any final offers.  

Is it safe? 
Especially for homeowners with families, safety is of the utmost importance. Realtor Mag suggested contacting the local police department to inquire about crime trends. Verify what type of crime is most common and if rates are going up or down. For example, an area with a small amount of burglaries may appear to be good at first glance, but if theft has increased 200 percent over the last year, it may be worrying even if the number of instances are still low. 

Thankfully, doing a fast online search for "crime report" and including the home's zip code should uncover similar information in a quick, efficient way.

Asking fellow homeowners about safety is another way to gauge how comfortable people are in their homes at night, if you have to be aware of anything in particular and if there are any programs in place like a neighborhood watch.

Check the covenants 
home owner's association (HOA) can drastically impact a neighborhood, according to Cents and Order. Each HOA will have covenants, or rules related to how you can use your property and any required maintenance or landscaping.

If your dream neighborhood is quiet during the evenings with orderly, manicured lawns, then an HOA with strict rules may be beneficial. However, if you prefer a laid back environment where rowdy block parties are the norm, a house with any type of community restrictions may be out of the question. Decide what you want your neighborhood to feel like, and make sure any rules and regulations match with your ideals and values.

Is the local economy good? 
A strong economy can benefit property values and the feel of a neighborhood over the long term. If the city starts experiencing economic hardship, school quality can decrease with fewer tax dollars coming in and home prices can plummet. Check for warning signs of a poor economy including increasing foreclosures, businesses that are boarded up, commercial vacancies and decreasing home prices. 

If there is a downtown area in the city you're considering, walk the street and stop in a few businesses. Ask how business has been and if they notice any recent trends in numbers of buyers or amount of purchases. Also check to see if there are a variety of businesses that provide local jobs. 

Is it kid-friendly?
If your family has children, make sure to examine the neighborhood for features like parks and schools. 

A good school district can increase property values and provide a better educational experience for residents' kids. By doing an internet search for "school district ratings in [zip code]" you should be able to find measures including test scores and teacher ratings. If the school has had a decrease in scores recently, it may be worth calling for an explanation. Even if your little ones are still young, make sure to check out the high schools since they grow up quickly. 

In addition to safety, you'll also want to see if there are any community centers or activities for younger residents that could help pass long summer days or weekends with the family. Parks with playgrounds and water features during hot weather are also a bonus. 

Does it fit with your interests and values? 
Each buyer has a different set of opinions and politics they come with. If you're a political person and lean to either the right or left, you may be more comfortable in a neighborhood with similar tendencies. 

The same goes for interests – make sure there is an opportunity to indulge in your favorite hobbies without driving long distances. If you like to watch movies and the closest theater is an hour away, you might want to look for homes in a different area. 

No matter what, you want to feel comfortable and fulfilled in your neighborhood as well as your home. 

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