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4 Tips to Determine Whether a Neighborhood Is Right for You

Picking the "right" neighborhood can sometimes be tougher than finding the right house.

Choosing a home is tough enough. You need to weigh a lot of factors, including price, size, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, layout, repair quality, features and amenities … the list goes on.

But remember: Your experience in your new home will be contextualized by the neighborhood that you choose. And picking the “right” neighborhood can sometimes be tougher than finding the right house.

Here are four tips that can help you choose the best neighborhood:

1. Check out the crime rate

“Crime” is a broad term. If a neighborhood is “high-crime,” does that mean it suffers from petty shoplifting and car break-ins — or does it have a high murder rate?

This might be the top piece of data that you’ll want to know, and fortunately, there’s an easy way to find it: Trulia’s local info maps give details on local crime, taking into account both the frequency and severity of happenings. It’s displayed visually as a heat map, with red indicating higher-risk areas, and green indicating low-risk. Or you can check out the neighborhood info given with each property listing.

2. Look for good schools

If you have children (or plan on having children), the necessity of checking for good schools is obvious. But even if you don’t plan on having kids, you can benefit from buying in a solid school district: Home values tend to be more stable, and homes often sell faster.

Trulia’s local maps also allow you to view all of the schools in a particular area. You can sort by elementary, middle, and high school, and each school is color-mapped based on its GreatSchools rating. Check it out here — just change the location you’re searching for.

Tip: Move the slider in the upper left to a higher GreatSchools rating (e.g., only schools that rank 8+ out of 10) so that the map reflects only the top schools. It’s an easy way to “clear the clutter” and view just the best schools in an area.

3. Discover your neighbors’ favorite activities

What are the hobbies of your next-door neighbors? Do people throw loud parties that rage until 2 a.m. on weekends? Or do they wake up early on Saturday morning for sunrise yoga in the backyard? Do your neighbors spend their Sundays mowing the lawns and grilling on the barbecue, or do they “mass-exodus” each weekend to their nearby vacation homes?

Ideally, you should live among neighbors with a lifestyle like your own. If you prefer quiet weekends and your neighbors like to throw parties — well, the potential conflict is obvious.

4. Learn the traffic patterns

Do the local roads experience traffic jams early in the morning, or does the worst traffic happen in the midafternoon? Are the streets clear during the weekends, or are Saturdays the heaviest-traffic days in that neighborhood?

The best way to gather this information is to spend a week or two in that neighborhood. Check into a hotel, arrange a short-term rental (one or two weeks), or at least cruise the area at different hours (early morning, midafternoon, and late night). If that’s not possible, then check out real-time traffic maps like Google Maps or Waze to view the traffic patterns at all hours of day.

Final thoughts

When you’re searching for a home, don’t get too caught up in surface-level details like granite countertops or hardwood floors.

After all, you can always change your house. You can remodel the kitchen, install new windows, and (if you’re willing to commit some serious dollars) even change the layout and floor plan. If you don’t like an aspect of your home, you can alter it.

That’s not the case with a neighborhood. If you don’t like an aspect of your surrounding community, sorry, there’s little you can do about it. You’ll need to learn to live with it.

So when you’re shopping for a home, pay close attention to the neighborhood. After all, the three most important criteria in home buying are “location, location, location.”