August 18th, 2011 11:24 AM by Eileen Denhard
1. They think
short-term.Often, moves happen because people are in a transition
of some sort — divorcing, downsizing or getting ready to start a family, says Deena Willis, associate broker/owner of
Re/Max Property Concierge in South Pasadena, Calif. Although their circumstances
are changing rapidly, she says, people tend to buy from their old mindset and
not think about how their life is changing.
"They are conflicted and may still want to be very urban when a sidewalk
neighborhood with kiddies all around would suit their new lifestyle much
better," Willis says. That amazing hillside view home might not look so
appealing after you've lugged a couple of giant boxes of diapers up the stairs,
Similarly, people moving after divorce or the death of a spouse may look for
a safe suburban area and fail to consider the risk of social isolation in a
neighborhood without nearby amenities such as coffee shops, bookstores and
restaurants, Schiller says.
"People often think they are more 'Leave it to Beaver'
than they really are," he says.
Solution: Get advice tailored to your situation.Most
people start their neighborhood research by talking to friends and co-workers.
Although it's helpful to solicit advice or suggestions on neighborhoods,
consider the source, says Diann Patton, Coldwell Banker's consumer real-estate
That friend without kids might not have a good grasp of the schools or
children's activities in his neighborhood and think it's a fine place to raise a
family. Likewise, that co-worker with young children might not have a good
handle on the arts scene and places for young professionals to mingle after
work. Talk to someone who's in your situation — or the situation in which you
will soon find yourself.
Do your own online research. Schiller's website,
allows you to find communities by lifestyle, such as "young families," "hip and
trendy," "Spanish-speaking neighborhoods" or "young singles, upwardly
show: The best cities for schools for your housing dollar
Greatschools.org lets you see how
students at the neighborhood schools fared on standardized tests.
City-data.com allows you to search cities
by demographics such as age, median income and education levels, as well as a
whole host of other factors.
2. They assume and don't verify.People often move into
areas that they hear have low crime rates, good schools and low taxes, etc.,
without bothering to verify these facts themselves or see for themselves.
They don't check with that sterling school district to see if a subdivision
or community falls within its boundaries, which can cut across city lines,
Likewise, they don't independently verify that a certain neighborhood is
outside of proposed freeway construction, flood plain or landslide areas. They
don't check records to see if an area is really low in all types of crime and
free of special taxes or restrictions.
Then, when construction begins, their car is vandalized or they receive a tax
bill they weren't prepared for, they're up in arms.
Solution: Don't assume. Get it in writing.Make sure your
agent knows your needs and concerns. Have her check county and
transportation-department records and get key documents about community
restrictions and financial standing.
Check out crime statistics and talk to local police about recent trends in
crime in that area, agents say.
And if you want to know what a "good school" looks
like in the area, go out and visit one, take a tour and talk to its principal,
says Todd Hetherington, CEO of Century 21 New Millennium in the Washington,
D.C., metro area. You may find the school overrated.
3. They underestimate or ignore the commute.Sure, that
neighborhood with the tree-lined streets and charming Victorian houses looks
great. But how much will you get to soak up this ambience if you're leaving the
house at the crack of dawn and coming home late?
And how much money will you have left over to spend on the weekend if the gas
pump is draining your wallet?
While some people buy into a bad commute simply because they adore a
neighborhood, others do it unknowingly, agents say. They come to look at a house
in the middle of the day and think, "This drive isn't so far." Then, when they
move in and make the drive at rush hour, it turns out to take twice as long.
Solution: Try out the commute at rush hour.Drive to your
work at the same time you would in the morning and drive back when your workday
ends. How long did it take you? If it's approaching an hour, you may want to
reconsider. According a recent study by Umea University in Sweden, couples with
one partner who commutes longer than 45 minutes are 40% more likely to divorce.
Don't risk it.
4. They don't check out the neighbors.The people who
surround you play a large role in shaping your lifestyle. Yet many homebuyers
give only a cursory glance to the people walking the streets of the community
they are considering.
Choose wisely and you increase your chances of potlucks, pleasant
conversations and a peaceful night's sleep. The wrong fit can lead to isolation,
tension and tears.
"There are not bad neighborhoods," Schiller says, "just bad matches."
How to find a safe neighborhood
For instance, a neighborhood with lots of condos and residents over 50 might
not yield a lot of play opportunities for a parent of a preschooler, Schiller
says. Likewise, an engineer or college professor might not find the social
interaction he's looking for in a neighborhood with low educational
Education, income, housing mix and the percentage
of renters compared with owners can all be researched online and used to narrow
your choice of neighborhoods. If you have kids, you should also check out your
Law databases to make sure you're not moving into a high-risk area.
But it's just as important, agents say, to go out and talk to people.
Solution: Walk the neighborhood.Get out of your car and
walk around the community. Talk to people who are out watering their yard or
walking their dog about their experiences with their neighbors, their habits and
where they go for fun.
Take in the feel of the place. Are there people loitering on street corners
for hours? Do you see a lot of dogs chained up and barking? Is there a lot of
noise? Or conversely, are the streets vacant in the evenings because everyone
has such a long commute?
Walk the streets in the morning and night to make sure the residents in an
area are people with whom you feel comfortable.
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5. They don't consider an area's amenities or
culture.That new development is safe and the houses are pretty. But
what is there to do on the weekends? An array of family-style restaurants, fast
food, movie theaters and a bowling alley might not cut it for someone used to
galleries, live music and sushi.
show: From blighted to bling: 10 revitalized neighborhoods
Many people overlook the importance of the right amenities, services and
culture in buying a house, agents say. Then they spend more time in the car
driving to find the stores, restaurants and entertainment that they crave and
don't connect with as many people in their own community.
Solution: Spend a weekend getting familiar with the
scene.Pretend you're a tourist and spend a night at a hotel in the
area, Patton suggests. Wake up and walk to have coffee at a local shop, browse
the stores in the main business district, head over to the local park and then
eat dinner at a busy restaurant on a Saturday night.
Just as telling, she says, is the local grocery store. You can get a feel for
how fast- or slow-paced a community is, she says, and how people are
She recalls a friend from San Francisco who visited her rural California
community and was shocked by the long lines, as cashiers talked up everyone who
came through the checkout line. "She asked 'Are they always this slow?' She said
she could never live here."