Picking the right neighborhood can be harder than you think. The old wisdom, drive by on a Saturday night is just not enough today. You have to know what to look for so you will know what to avoid; and, if you are working with a real estate agent, there is nothing wrong for you to ask them to scout the neighborhood for you. Find out who your neighbors might be, if there are kids in the area, schools, bus routes etc. Remember the saying, location, location, location? You may find what looks like the perfect house, but is it really? It’s all about location, so here’s how to find the right one.
Don’t Overlook the Signs
While you are driving around a prospective neighborhood, it’s important to read the signs; the obvious ones and the not so obvious. Miss these signs and you may regret when it’s too late to do anything about it.
- Security Cameras: The presence of security cameras alone is no cause for alarm in general. Luxury properties usually have them, as do places of business. However, when the average, or below average homes have them displayed everywhere you have to ask yourself, what are they afraid of? Why won’t a lock on the door be enough? This is a big red flag.
- Bars on Windows: This one’s pretty obvious. Many houses have bars on the ground floor, but when you start seeing them on the upper floors I would wonder what is going on. Are these people so afraid of where they live that they think people will scale the outside of their homes like Spiderman? Again, in luxury homes that is normal. In the standard home, it’s a warning sign.
- Adult Book Stores, Liquor Stores, and Pawn Shops: Take a look at what kinds of businesses occupy the neighborhood or town. Are they signs of success or decay? Stores that scream a town on the decline are adult bookstores, pawn shops, checks cashed places, Liquor stores, etc. Of course most towns have some of these so you have to look at the big picture; all of the signs combined. And where are the stores that are a sign of good times? I would look for things like upscale jewelry stores, Starbucks (they are pretty good at picking a neighborhood), Baby clothing and toy stores, restaurants (Peek in the window, do they use cloth tablecloths and cloth napkins?), and other stores that cater to what you want, not what you need.
- Parks and Playgrounds: This one is a big one. What do you find in the local children’s parks and playgrounds? Are they clean and well- maintained. Is the sand clean or dirty? Do you see parents or babysitters with children there, or young adults hanging around with nothing to do?
- Graffiti: I’m not talking about pictures and things like that. Look for symbols that have been repeated crossed out and replaced with other symbols. That is gang activity. One gang will spray a building with their tag, then another will come along and spray their tag over it. Gang tags mark territory. If you start seeing things like this it’s a sign that gangs are battling over the neighborhood.
- Car Lots: Do you see a lot of small lots with in house financing for those with bad credit, or do you see Mercedes and Acura dealerships. Any new car dealership is a good sign. You won’t see a Honda dealership in a rundown part of town.
- Housing: What is the house situation like? Are they hard to come by or are there for sales signs everywhere you look. A neighborhood in decay will probably have quite a few for sale signs up as people are trying to escape a bad situation. Talk to a REALTOR; again, don’t be shy. Are houses selling like hotcakes, or do they sit on the market for months on end? That kind of information can be very telling.
What Else to Look For
As you’re doing your due diligence, driving around the neighborhood, what types of people do you see around? During the middle of the week, middle of the day, do you see a lot of adults hanging around when most are working? Are the street corners filled with teens and young adults just hanging around? Or do you see mom’s with their babies going for walks. If the neighborhood is dangerous you will not likely see a mother taking a stroll with her baby. If you have kids, or are planning to, ask other parents that you see around town. If they can’t stand the place they will be only too happy to save you from making the same mistakes they made. On the other hand, if they love the neighborhood, they’ll happily tell you about all the wonderful things it has to offer. The people who live there are often your best source of information.
About the Author: Loxley McKenzie, principal at Colordarcy.com, provides valuable information about Brazil where he frequently travels for pleasure and business.