Three beds. Two baths. 2,000 square feet. 15 noisy skateboarders adjacent. Guess which one wasn’t listed on the brochure.
There’s a lot to a more to a neighborhood than numbers. To be fair, WalkScores and other statistics can do a fine job of helping you narrow your choices, and sellers are required to be honest, but motivated sellers walk a fine line between honesty and “full disclosure.” If you want to tell the honeymoon from the marriage, you’ll have to put in a little leg work.
There are plenty of potential drawbacks to consider. Noisy or nosy neighbors, excessive traffic, petty crime and vandalism, chronic problems with litter—any one of these could make you reconsider your offer price, or even your decision to make an offer. Sellers are not usually required to disclose most of these potential nuisances, and in some areas, they may not be required to disclose even major ones, such as repeatedly aggressive neighbors. Here are some tips to help identify them yourself.
Take a walk
The simplest answers are often the ones we overlook. Many buyers purchase a home after just one or two scheduled viewings. If you’re going to be living in a neighborhood for years, you owe yourself a complete picture. Visit the neighborhood at different times of the day, on different days of the week. Are there loud trucks driving by on weekend mornings? Are children comfortable playing in the neighborhood, or are the homes locked up tight after dinner? Are the streets well-lit at night, or do you worry about walking alone?
Talk to your neighbors
While you’re walking, stop people as they walk by and ask about the neighborhood. If you let them lead the conversation, they’ll probably give you answers to questions you haven’t even considered. While you’re learning about the local shops and attractions, ask about your nearest neighbors. If they’re noteworthy in any way, you’ll probably hear about it here. Finally, walk up to your future next-door neighbors’ homes (at a reasonable hour) and say hello. You’ll establish a good relationship from the start, learn enough to draw your own conclusions, and might even find out a thing or two about the seller.
Learn about local crime
Using any number of online tools, you can (and should) check your neighborhood crime statistics. Most services will give you a relative ranking of property and violent crimes versus local, state, or national averages. Keep these in perspective. Relatively high crime rates in large cities are often par for the course—compare your neighborhood to other local neighborhoods to determine what is reasonable for your search. If you have children, you might want to check online sex offender databases, as well. Next, check local daily and weekly papers’ crime reports. If petty vandalism makes the news, murder and robbery are probably uncommon. Finally, ask a professional. The local police officer or sheriff’s deputy patrols the streets every day, and has the most accurate information (often on a block-by-block basis) about local crime.
As you research your local area, please remember—no neighborhood is perfect, so expect to find some issues. You’ll almost certainly need to deal with some sort of problem, wherever you live. But knowledge is power, and it just might give you the power to negotiate a better deal up front.
by Cormac Foster