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Finding The Right Neighborhood

A home is not a building - it's the place where you live. The neighborhood that surrounds your property, and the community surrounding your neighborhood can have more to do with the making of a home than any building feature. Your neighbors, your children's new friends, the public school teachers, local police officers, and the people you'll meet at the supermarket will all become part of the place you'll call home. It is important that you determine in advance what type of community you would like to live in. Many people prefer to live in a community where the residents have similar education and income levels. If you are just starting a family, for instance, you may not want to live in an area whose average age is over fifty years old.

How to Evaluate a Community

Evaluating a community is a more important decision than simply matching the characteristics of a community to your own. It is also important to look at the finding of the right neighborhood as an economic decision as well. The resale value of your home is very much affected by the surrounding community. This is true for both the town that you are planning to move to and the neighborhood you will live in. After you have identified the qualities that you are looking for in a community, and applied some demographic research to determine the objective factors, it is time to actually visit the community and determine the more subjective and personal considerations. Upon entering the community, evaluate the appearance of the town's center and the general appearance of the buildings and landscape along the main roads. Next, evaluate the appearance of the houses and yards surrounding the property for sale, and the children in neighborhood. Try to determine the age range of your potential neighbors.

Another very important consideration is the "Life Cycle" of the neighborhood you are considering, which is the last item on the "Evaluate Your Community Priorities" form. There are four stages in the life cycle of the neighborhoods, growth, stability, decline and revitalization. Growth is characterized by the building of many new houses in an area. Stability normally occurs when there are few houses left in an area. This life stage usually lasts the longest length of time. Property values decline as many years go by and proper maintenance is not done. This characterizes the decline stage. Areas can be affected by the recent influx of apartments or lower-income houses. Revitalization occurs when the demand to live in the area increases and the economic factors accelerate. You can determine a community's growth pattern by simply looking at town records. These can tell you how many permits have been given out. You should also be able to tell if these permits were given out for residential purposes or for commercial purposes. A commercialized community may not necessarily bring down the value of a home but it may not be a characteristic that you want your neighborhood to have.

It is very important not to buy a house in an area that is in or near decline. You may be able to purchase a home for less money than you would if the neighborhood was in another stage; but, you can never be too sure how long the decline will last. If you were in a position where you had to sell your home, there's a chance you may not get back as much money as you paid for the property. It is also important to find a neighborhood with homes in similar price ranges. Your home's value can easily be brought down by the quality of the other houses in the area. It may benefit you to buy an average house in a nice neighborhood rather than buy the nicest house in an average neighborhood. This just goes to show how much your surrounding community has on the resale value of your home.

As you can see, choosing a neighborhood is as important, if not more so, as choosing the right house. We at Todd Sandler Realtors realize this and will do all we can to help you in this process. Todd Sandler Realtors takes pride in knowing the communities that we deal with. Our agents know what areas are in the growth stage and which are in decline. It is this knowledge that helps us help you.

How to Evaluate Demographics

After you have made a list of the qualities that you are looking for in a neighborhood, it is time to match these qualities up with potential neighborhoods. Looking at the demographics, or the "School & Community Profiles" of a particular area can be very helpful in your search. By studying this information you will be able to learn a lot about the community and the people who live within it.

Researching the School & Community Profiles of a given town is a task which is normally broken into two groups: School Information and Community Profile.

School Information

Evaluating public school information is a comparative process where you compare the community figures with the "overall average" figures that represent the state as a whole. By comparing your target community figures with the state averages you can determine whether the home in question can be easily sold to parents, and what type of kids you can expect to meet downtown. A proper evaluation of these demographics would involve answering the following questions:

1) Does the community spend more or less money per pupil than the state average?

This question can be an indication of the quality of the schools' facilities, how current the text materials are, how the school grounds are kept, etc.

2) Are the teachers compensated adequately as compared to the state average?

This question can be an indication of the quality of the schools' teachers, or how happy the teachers are with their job.

3) Do the students score better or worse in state proficiency exams than the state average?

This is the bottom-line in regard to the effectiveness of the school system. Money can buy great buildings and materials, and keep teachers from grumbling, but it is no substitute for insightful leadership, a caring faculty, and a program that works.

4) What is the drop-out rate and percentage of students who go on to college as compared to the state average?

This is an indicator of the effectiveness of the school system in retaining students with special needs and keeping problem kids on the right path.

Even if you don't have children of your own, or if "the kids have flown from the nest", the statistics regarding the community's public school system are important factors to consider. Beside the fact that you may someday want to sell your home to the parents of school aged children, the public school system is often the centerpiece of a community's public image. For both of these reasons, public school system information can be closely associated with the overall property value of a home.

Community Profile

By evaluating the available demographic information about a specific city or town you can reach a fairly accurate picture about the community and the people who live in it. Some of the most important information you'll be looking for will be the geographic location, local property tax rate, and the crime rate. Other important considerations you might have could involve the age, education, and income level of the community's population, or the community's economic base or the public services that are available.

Geographic Location

The geographic location should be examined to determine how far you will travel to reach the nearest major highway, how far to where you work, and how far to the nearest major city. If you enjoy the privacy and security of suburban or rural life, these are not the most important considerations. But if you are a fan of the opera, an avid museum patron, or just hate to drive, you should pay close attention to this information.

Property Tax

Local property tax rates can vary quite a bit from town to town. If the local tax rate seems a little high as compared to other towns, determine the size of the local police department, fire department, and department of public works, and determine if there is a higher standard of living associated with the tax rate. A higher number of municipal personnel could indicate well-kept roads, properly maintained parks, or recreation programs for the community's youth.

Crime Rate

In most demographic reports, the crime rate indicates the amount of "Part One Crimes" (the eight most serious crimes as defined by the FBI) that occur in the community in a given year. Keep in mind the fact that all communities experience some level of crime. And just like a public school analysis, you want to compare the community's crime rate with those of other communities. Just as important as determining whether the target community has a higher or lower amount of crime than other communities, is analyzing whether the crime rate has gone up or down over the past few years.

Available Public Services

Another important factor to consider when evaluating a community is what public services will be immediately available to you. Is there public transportation or cab service? Is there a hospital in town or a local health center? How big is the public library? Are there any museums or recreation centers? In metropolitan areas these questions become how many cab services, health centers or recreation centers are there? And, again, there is often a trade-off in regard to the availability of such services as opposed to the relative seclusion of suburban or rural life.

Economic Base

This information indicates the general state of the local economy and the major industries of the target community. What is the local unemployment rate? Are most of the jobs in town executive, manufacturing based, or construction related? If there are a lot of retail related jobs, then you know that there is lots of shopping nearby, and probably a lot of out-of-town traffic to go with it. What economic development organizations are there, such as the chamber of commerce?

Population Age, Education, and Income Level

Finally, what types of people reside within the town. Most demographic reports will identify how many people fall within a certain age range, educational level, income level, etc. Many people prefer to live in a community where the residents have similar education and income levels. If you are just starting a family, for instance, you may not want to live in an area whose average age is over fifty years old.

Ask a Real Estate Agent

Most demographic companies derive their information from the latest United States Census Bureau data, and are projections based on history and trends. Accordingly, the report's accuracy depends on the accuracy of the census, and then on the growth or decline of the target area since the last census was taken. Thus, while they are a good guideline and may be very useful for comparing one area to another, they may need to be verified using data gleaned from the local area's Chamber of Commerce or utility companies. Demographic reports typically don't mention seasonal residents either.

We at Todd Sandler Realtors want to make sure that you find the right house, in the right community, in the right neighborhood for you. Our real estate professionals possess a great deal of knowledge about the communities that they serve. So once you have made some preliminary determinations based upon the demographic reports, feel free to call upon a Todd Sandler Realtors agent to gain a more subjective profile of the communities you're looking into. Their personal experience in these communities will offer a perspective that is not included in the demographic reports.

At Todd Sandler Realtors, your satisfaction is our most valued asset!

Todd A. Sandler, Inc., REALTORS
536 N. Main St. (Rt. 28)
Randolph, MA  02368
(781) 961-1185