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Choosing the right Neighborhood

Right At Home Daily: Finding It: House-Hunting
By Lisa Skolnik for Right at Home Daily

Where do you want to live? The answer depends on your wants and needs, and you should choose a neighborhood accordingly.

If you're just starting out, you may want a home for investment purposes, where you can live in one part of the home and rent out the other to defray costs. If you don't have a car, the proximity of shopping, public transportation, and houses of worship will be necessities. And if you have a family, your central concerns will be schools, libraries, playgrounds and community centers.

Since every neighborhood has its own assets and liabilities, start with the basics. Your real estate agent should be able to provide you with the official statistics that are available for a neighborhood on home sales, schools, crime rates, and taxes, and you can find much of this information on the Internet. Your agent should also be able to tell you about what community services are in the area.

To get a feel for an area and determine if it's the right place for you, plan to do a little sleuthing on your own.

Start by talking to local residents. Listen to the opinions of people who live in the neighborhood. To meet them, try going to services at a local church or synagogue, attending school parent-teacher association meetings, or working out at a local gym.

Get a feel for the area. Shop in area stores, subscribe to the community paper, visit the local park, ask to observe classes at the schools, and ride the local bus or train lines.

Analyze local problems and issues. You'll want to check area sales figures to see if property values are stable or increasing, get the local schools' standardized test results, discuss the area with the community relations officer at the local police station, and walk or drive around to check for graffiti, heavy traffic, unkempt houses and trash on the streets.

Investigate what's going on in the community, and what future construction projects are being planned. Find out what building plans or improvements are on the drawing board so you don't end up in the shadows of a high rise or with a fast food place right down the street. Is your quiet little street slated to become a four-lane thoroughfare? Consider the reverse as well: Are there plans for more schools and services in a quickly growing area?

Finding the right neighborhood depends on deciding what you really want and need. You'll have to do your homework because no one can make these decisions for you.

Before making a final selection, check out different neighborhoods for their resale rate and home values, quality of schools, established services, and convenient public transit lines. Get as much data on these topics as possible from your broker, use the Internet and go there to check it out yourself.

The best way to make sure you're going to like your new neighborhood is to spend time there. Drive the commute during rush hour or take public transportation. Be there on a Saturday morning to see what's happening. Walk around during the day and shop in local stores.

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