Running around with your real estate agent visiting houses in a strong market like today’s means you have to make quick decisions on your home selection.  Time is not on your side with multiple offers coming on desirable properties.  Beyond that, and perhaps most importantly, you need to make sure you’re choosing a neighborhood that’s right for you and your family for the foreseeable future.  And doing that under the market pressure can be difficult.  Home buyers can make the neighborhood selection less stressful in two simple phases: pre-showing homework and day of showing awareness.

Pre-Showing

Doing your “pre-game” homework on neighborhoods should be done before making appointments to see houses with your agent, but may take awhile to zero in on desirable areas.  There are five key areas to study:

  1. Schools – Most communities with strong schools maintain their property values.  Is there a school referendum for new buildings coming?  This can tell you the area values, and can financially support, the evolution of their educational system.  Doing research on area schools by meeting with families that attend, reading online reviews, perusing their website materials, and even sitting down with the principal are some ways to discover schools and districts with whom you connect.
  2. Latte Factor – Search the area for something as simple as nationally branded retailers, such as your favorite coffee house.  They have done their research on traffic patterns, incomes studies, and growth trends in the community, which can be one indicator of a strong local economy.
  3. Ownership – Are the areas you’re considering full of home owners, or home renters? Outside of huge metro areas, neighborhoods with a large number of home owners may be more stable.  Observing “For Rent” signs, consulting with your real estate agent, and watching for apartment complexes are a few ways to find this out.
  4. Change – Visiting with a local chamber of commerce and reading about development in the community is important.  We’re looking for change – the good kind. Are jobs coming to the area? If so, what kind of jobs? Is the community dependent on one specific industry or company, or does it have a stronger base of economy?
  5. Routine – Consider your own personal routine when choosing real estate in a specific neighborhood.  How long do you want to commute?  Check other things like ease of local shopping, distance to schools, public transit, and bike/walking paths.

Day of Showing

Buyers can run through a quick neighborhood checklist of three items during a showing that will assist them in making not only a good decision on a home, but a quick one if needed.

  1. Roofs – When I get out of the car in a new neighborhood, especially one I’m going to invest in, I look at the roofs up and down the street.  This is a quick, reliable barometer that may indicate an area that either keeps up with home maintenance, or does not.  A neighborhood full of newer roofs, clean gutters, and attached down spouts is off to a good start before you even enter the home you’re there to see.
  2. People – Look around.  Are there children outside?  People walking? Neighbors talking to each other?  Those are all signs of a healthy neighborhood.  Taking a couple minutes to observe that during your showing can speak to the climate of the neighborhood.
  3. Landscape – Take another minute to notice everyone’s lawn.  Has it been mowed recently?  Is the grass healthy or dominated by weeds? Do the landscape mulch and shrubs appear tidy?  If it has snowed, is the plowing complete? Sidewalks clear? Driveways take care of?  Local homeowners that care about their landscape, will likely help keep property values up in the area.  Chances are if they care to spend time on the outside of their homes, they’re doing other things to maintain the value of their home.

It’s an exciting market out there.  Don’t forget you’re buying more than your next home; you’re buying the neighborhood!


Brian Lawton is a licensed Wisconsin REALTOR®, real estate investor, industry blogger, entrepreneur, and Director of Property Revival Realty’s Wisconsin offices, where he lives with his family.  Connect with him: LinkedIn, YouTube, Google+.