Location, Location, Location: How to find all the details about the neighbourhood before you buy.

The Jones’ family found their dream home and moved into it with all of the excitement and enthusiasm of a kid on Christmas morning.  After a long and hectic day of unpacking, they collapsed into bed anticipating a good night’s rest.  Unfortunately, they were shocked and dismayed when they began to hear the very obvious noise of trucks roaring along the road situated less than a half mile to the rear of their home.  Too late!

This unfortunate situation exemplifies the need to focus on location when contemplating the purchase of a home.  A million dollar euro isn’t worth a cent if it’s sitting next to a toxic waste dump.  This example is far-fetched and outrageous, but it makes the point that finding the right location is certainly as important as finding the right house.

If you’re moving to somewhere new how do you investigate a potential neighbourhood?  There are a number of factors and issues to be considered in your evaluation.  Some of them can be covered merely through visual observation; others will have to be explored with the assistance of community and government organizations.

One of your first and most significant concerns should be the crime rate.  If every other house on the street is being burglarised every other month, you might want to look elsewhere.  Check the central statistics offices for quarterly crime stats.  The Ombudsmans offices can also advise on response times in the area.  If the community has a neighbourhood watch group or a neighbourhood citizens’ security patrol, attend one of their meetings or speak with their group representatives.

How far is your new neighbourhood from your place of employment?  How far is too far?  Bottom line: check public transport, driving time and traffic patterns, both coming and going.  If public transport is not an option, are there any activities or facilities in the area that will make the trip more unpleasant or time consuming on specific days of the week?  As an example, is there a bridge that backs up on Friday afternoons as people rush to their weekend retreats?

If you have children, or anticipate having them, you’ll want to check out the schools in the area.  Visit the schools and talk to the Principals or school counsellors.  Ask about class sizes, bus service, curriculum.  If your child is a gifted student, you’ll want to inquire about accelerated courses.  If your child needs special Ed opportunities, ask about them.  Knowing about your child’s school is one of your primary responsibilities as a parent.

This may sound a bit picky, but you should visit and evaluate your local markets, shops and restaurants.  Do they sell quality products?  Is there a convenient place to purchase daily necessities such as milk, lunch items, coffee, etc.?  Do the local restaurants suit your taste?  The answers to these questions may not factor substantially into your moving decision, but they are part of the equation and should at least be recognized and considered.

Availability of community services should not be overlooked.  Is there a good hospital in the immediate vicinity?  Do they have an emergency room?  How about parks and a library? 

You should visit the neighbourhood at various times of the day and night to check for sounds, smells, heavy traffic and the presence of any activities that you might find offensive as a resident.  Sometimes the complexion of a neighbourhood changes at night.  Drive around after dark and look for the presence of undesirables lounging about in public places.  Try to get a sense and feeling of the neighbourhood. 

Finally, you will want to find out if the area has a residents association.  If so, ask about membership dues, restrictions and covenants.  If the representative is forthcoming, ask if there are any problems in the area that you as a prospective new resident should consider.

You are about to make one of the biggest financial decisions of your life.  Don’t be timid.  Ask questions, make notes and weigh all the pro’s and con’s before deciding.