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Location Diligence How To Research Potential Neighborhoods
Dated: March 19 2019
Hopefully, you’ve read our article Setting Buying Criteria which outlines the broad strokes of determining what house you will buy, where it will be located, and how much it will cost. Here, we’ll discuss in depth, how to research the locations you are considering.
As discussed in the Setting Buying Criteria article, start by choosing 5-10 neighborhoods you would be willing to live in and go through the items listed below. Cross off potential neighborhoods as you learn more about the area through the Location Diligence process.
Your research can start at home, websites such as NeighborhoodScout and Walk Score can provide you with general overview, present additional neighborhoods you may have overlooked & touch on each item listed below.
Once you've determined 5-10 potential neighborhoods, get out in the field to really get a sense.
Start with a very informal process of simply walking and/or driving around, take the backroads and imagine what life would be like if these were your ‘stomping grounds.’ If you don’t like the feel of the area, traffic flow, demographics, or anything else about the neighborhood, cross it off the list. Be ruthless. This informal process should eliminate a few potential options.
Once the neighborhood has passed the gut feeling test, it’s time to dig a little deeper and understand how the local infrastructure and institutions influence your potential property value.
The schools in the area should influence your buying decision, even if you do not have children. There are certain areas in the greater Puget Sound region that command a much higher price for an identical home simply because of the school system. Depending on the location of the home, the difference could be $50,000 to $100,000. Did we get your attention yet??
The fact is people will pay more for better schools, which ultimately influences the resale value of your property. The National Association of Realtors found in their recent study that “proximity to good quality schools is one of the most influential” factors that influence a buyers decision to purchase home. SOURCE.
Specifically, you want to see what schools are ranking higher on test scores and lower teacher to student ratios. This website will allow you to compare districts as well as individual schools within districts throughout Washington State.
The tools available on Neighborhood Scout or Walk Score also provide excellent insight to school rankings. And of course, working with an area expert will provide you with insider information that is unavailable via third party or public sources.
Unfortunately, most areas have crime to report. However, knowing the frequency and type of criminal activity in your potential neighborhood is important. Most cities have data available via their police department.
If you have children, live alone or are in and out of your home early mornings/late nights, you may want to look at the National Sex Offender Public Website as well.
The final piece of diligence is checking out what the city has planned for the neighborhood.
Most cities, including Seattle, Bellevue, Everett, Tacoma and everywhere in between, has a Department of Planning that determines what areas will be developed in the future, zoning changes, where major highways, trains and/or public transportation lines will be installed, possible future airports, school development, and/or commercial or business centers.
This may or may not influence your neighborhood, but it’s a good idea to at least look. If the city is planning to install a major public transportation hub 2 blocks from your new home, you want to know! Talk with your broker about how the plans may influence the future value of homes in the area. If there is major work planned, you need to ask yourself, am I willing to live through the months (or years!) of construction?
Property Value & Appreciation
So you love the neighborhood! That’s great! Quick reality check, can you afford to live in the area? The property type you choose will help with this, perhaps you can afford a condo in your favorite neighborhood and a single family home in your second favorite. That’s ok, you can look for both.
Lastly, ask your broker to do a comprehensive analysis of the area. They should look at average sale prices over the past 8 years or so and provide you an average of the price change, which ideally will be a positive number. Then they can calculate the estimated appreciation you will gain over time. Of course, the appreciation is influenced by how long you plan to own the house, how well you maintain the property, any upgrades you decide to make to the property, and a multitude of economic, political, and environmental factors that are outside our immediate control.
Assuming all things being equal, your broker can provide you with an educated estimate of appreciation over a period of time.
All of this research is for you to consider; None of the items above are deal breakers on their own and ultimately, it all comes down to your personal priorities, comfort level and lifestyle choices. The goal here is to consolidate your search efforts to 3-5 primary neighborhood you want to live in. Too many options creates confusion and feeling overwhelmed.
Off Market Specialist. Specialties: Buyer's Agent, Listing Agent, Relocation, Commercial R.E. I'm a real estate consultant who's made a career of an excellent track record of outstanding results an....