Buying a home is a probably the biggest purchase you’ll ever make. In an ideal world, you would take your time before making an offer, visiting several times and studying up on the town and the neighborhood.
These days, you need to act swiftly or someone else may swoop in on your dream home. So how can you get an accurate feel for a neighborhood?
Of course you should perform due diligence, checking crime rates and doing online research about schools and community events. But there's one very simple step you can take to uncover a fountain of immediate info:
Talk to the neighbors.
Although it might feel awkward to approach strangers before or after looking at a house, most people are willing to talk with prospective buyers.
If you see a neighbor outside, politely approach them, tell them you are considering buying the house for sale on the street and ask if they mind answering a couple of questions.
Not sure what to ask?
Here are seven insightful questions that will help you glean some useful info.
1. How would you describe the area, and what it's like living here?
This open-ended question allows neighbors to spill whatever comes to mind first — which most often is the things that they love (and dislike) the most about their neighborhood.
While real estate agents are limited in the information that they can disclose to you about a neighborhood, neighbors don't have such restrictions.
But keep in mind, if you disclose (or it’s evident) which house you're considering, there's always the chance that the neighbors are friendly with the seller, and loyalty could taint their response. And of course, people's perspectives can vary.
Focus on getting a good feel for the vibe of the neighborhood. To get a more accurate picture, try to ask several neighbors the same questions.
2. Do you consider this to be a safe neighborhood to live in?
This question allows you to get more detail about the feel of the neighborhood. You may want to ask if break-ins are common in the area. Is there a neighborhood watch program -- formal or informal? Do neighbors tend to keep an eye on each other's properties when they are out of town?
If you have children or like to take your dog for a walk, traffic patterns may also be of importance. Neighbors will be able to let you know if children can play or ride their bike in the street safely.
3. If you could change anything at all about the neighborhood, what would it be?
This question gives you an opportunity to ask about any drawbacks to the area, such as limited parking, barking dogs or other inconveniences that might become big annoyances if you purchase a home in the area.
4. Which school district is this neighborhood in, and are you happy with the school?
Schools should be a major concern, even if you don't have kids. A good school district usually translates into higher property values; potential buyers with children will want to be in the district with the most desirable schools.
You'll find lots of resources online to learn about school system ratings, but nothing beats hearing the personal experience of families who have kids enrolled in the local schools. And if you have kids, besure to ask the neighbors about any specific school programs that your children may need.
5. Is the neighborhood friendly ... do the neighbors socialize with each another?
Were you hoping for backyard barbecues and Sunday football game watch parties? Running partners and wine buddies? Do you prefer a peaceful vibe or are you looking for a lively social scene for you and your kids?
This question will help you determine whether you're a good fit for the neighborhood. Neighbors may share that there's not a neighborhood social scene, or that there are block parties and an open-door policy. You can learn more about the social scene for both your kids and yourselves.
6. Is there anything that I should be aware of with this property?
Once you’ve asked about the neighborhood vibe, it’stime to turn your attention to the specific home you're considering. Although sellers are legally required to disclose certain information, neighbors might be willing to dish more on the revealing things that weren't evident in the disclosure. If the property you are thinking of buying has run into some problems, then the neighbors would know all about it.
7. How long have you lived in the neighborhood?
Gaining an understanding of how long your potential neighbors have lived in the neighborhood provides you some insight. Neighbors who have been around for a while may be able to give you the back story of why the property is on the market, which is good intel for negotiation.
Homeowners that live in the same house for some time also tend to have a stronger sense of community and take pride in their home and their neighborhood. A well-kept neighborhood is in your best interest as it will impact the value of the house.
The next time you head to an open house, don't forget to set aside a few minutes to chat with the neighbors — what they say could cement your decision that this is the perfect place to live, or it could save you from making a big mistake.
Ready to enter the market? Call us 978.664.3700 -- we're here to help!