How to Choose the Right Neighborhood


Buying a home, especially your first home, can be intimidating. You’re committing to a mortgage, a community, and quite often a path for your future. It’s important to hone in on your “must-haves” versus your “could-haves” when selecting your home and your neighborhood. By distinguishing your needs and assessing your financial situation, you can start to zero in on a location that will be perfect for you or your family.


Figure Out What You Can Afford


Ideally, a fourth of your net income should go towards house payments. A higher percentage above 35% is typically dangerous, as you will be unable to have much wiggle room when unfortunate or unexpected events occur, such as an increase in homeowner’s insurance, the loss of a job, or a car accident. Remember, buying a home does not simply involve a monthly mortgage – there are homeowner’s association dues, taxes, utilities, landscaping costs, and potentially the need to personally fix-up the home according to your standards. Once you’ve identified how much money you can spend, you can search for homes that fit your budget in a variety of towns and neighborhoods.


Decide How Important Proximity Is


Some people like to live on the outskirts of town, far away from the hustle and bustle. Others prefer proximity to basic amenities, such as grocery stores, public transportation, and gas stations. Of course, you can find a happy medium in most suburbs, but for some, a five minute drive to the train station is much more preferable than a twenty minute drive. When choosing a neighborhood, identify the daily or weekly trips you’ll be making outside of the home, and how that neighborhood’s location might affect your commute.


Visualize Your Future, Including Your Family’s Future


Whether you’re just starting a family, or downsizing now that the kids are out of the house, your family matters. If you’re a young, single professional who may be looking to settle down soon, or a young couple with a baby on the way, you’re probably thinking about your future child’s education and livelihood. Analyze the various school districts of the neighborhoods you’re reviewing. Are you looking for a private school? Public? What are those schools’ average test scores? Are there active sports teams and community outreach opportunities? If you’re downsizing, consider how your grandchildren might enjoy your neighborhood when they visit.


Make Your Rounds


There’s nothing more telling than visiting a neighborhood in person. Once you’ve identified a few solid locations with homes in your budget range, make a trip to see how those neighborhoods feel in person. Visit during different times of the day, as you might be able to spot neighbors and see what their activity is like. Look out for warning signs, such as vandalism, abandoned homes, or sanitation issues, which you probably won’t find out about in an Internet search. Once feel comfortable with an area, you can feel more at peace about your home-buying decision.