Buying a Home: Step 2 is Neighborhoods and Wishlists

So you’ve started your search for your new home, and you’ve gotten pre-approved for a loan. What now? Before diving straight into checking out every single home listed for sale in the city, take a step back and think about what you are really looking for. You need to decide what you want in your future home and create your wishlist of desired features. You also need to think about what kind of neighborhood you want to be in. If you find your dream home but don’t love the neighborhood, you won’t love living there as much. So how do you decide on all of this? We’ll help you out.

Scope out the Neighborhood

As if looking for a new home wasn’t tough enough, the thought of having to choose what neighborhood to look in seems daunting to say the least. There are many different things to think about and questions to ask yourself when checking out the neighborhood of your potential new home. Many factors of a neighborhood will play into your daily life, such as local schools, commute times, and nearby amenities. To make the process a bit easier, start by asking yourself these questions.

What type of home do you want?
Not talking about your dream home wish list yet. This is much more simple. Are you looking for a single family home or a condo? Would you like an urban neighborhood like the city center, the suburbs, or somewhere more rural? Do you like being in the middle of all the action or do you like more privacy? This will help you to narrow your home search to within the type of neighborhood you are seeking.

How far are you willing to commute?
Unless you are one of those people who works from home, commute times will be affected by the location of your home. Some buyers are willing to spend more time commuting to work in exchange for a more affordable house or a more desirable location. For others, being able to spend more time at home and less time in the car is more important. Especially here in Southern California, where commute times can add up to several hours a day, this may be a big deciding factor when choosing where to look for a new home.

Do you have kids or are you planning to have them soon?
Families with kids should definitely take local schools into consideration when choosing a neighborhood. Parents want the best for their children, and want them to have a good education. Because of this, families may focus their search in an area with highly regarded schools. Even if you are single, or do not plan on having kids, buying a house in a well sought-after school district will automatically raise the value of your home.

What about Walkability?
Walkability is becoming a huge key word in home searches these days. Walkability relates to a neighborhoods proximity of goods and services. Neighborhoods with high walkability have a lots of amenities nearby, and residents don’t have to necessarily drive a car to get to them. This includes restaurants, coffee shops, grocery stores, shopping centers, recreational areas, parks, and more. Homebuyers these days are attracted more and more to walkable neighborhoods, making homes in these areas more valuable. If you choose to live in a more rural location, just take into consideration how long it will take you to get to these same amenities, and if you are willing to take that drive every day.

What is your current community lacking?
In other words, what is something you wish you had near your current home? If you have always been land-locked but love the water, a waterfront home may be what you’re searching for. If you have been in the city center your whole life, maybe you want something a little more quiet and secluded. Or on the other hand, maybe you want the action of the city, or you’ve always wanted to live around the corner from a Starbucks. All of these will help you decide where to direct your home search.

Also, what do you NOT want in a neighborhood?
Do you hate noise at night? Avoid buying a home near a freeway or in a neighborhood with lots of bars and clubs. Do you not want to have to fight for a parking spot? Look for a neighborhood without a lot of apartments, and one that has single family homes on bigger lots. What you don’t want in a neighborhood is just as important to consider as what you do want.

What can you afford?
This of course is the ultimate deciding factor in choosing where to buy a home. You may find a beautiful home in the perfect neighborhood, but if you can’t afford it, then you’re out of luck. Look at property taxes as well. In one neighborhood you may only be able to afford a $500,000 house with 3.5% tax rate, where in another you can buy a $600,000 house with a 2.5% tax rate. Your real estate agent will be able to help you with this. They will know if the areas you are looking in have property values that are on the rise or decline. They can also tell you if the neighborhood is up-and-coming or losing popularity. This will help you get the best value for your money.

When you actually go to the neighborhood:

A lot of the research mentioned above can be done without ever stepping foot in the various neighborhoods you are considering. That is why when you actually go to see your potential new home, you need to also get a feel of what the area is like in person.

Remember your first impression.
What is the first thing you notice about the neighborhood? Are the majority of the houses taken care of and visually appealing, or are they run down? Are there people spending time outside, or do you not see any neighbors? Do the shops and restaurants nearby look inviting? First impressions can be very telling.

Observe the neighborhood at different times of day.
If you are able, visit the neighborhood in the daytime and at night. This will help you to get a sense of how people in the area live. Is there a big parking issue in the evenings? Does it look like people socialize or keep to themselves? Do you feel safe there at night?

Sounds and Smells
Take some time outside when you are visiting your potential new home. Are there any strange smells? If there is a marsh or a factory nearby, it could cause unpleasant odors daily. Then listen; are there any unpleasant noises? We mentioned freeways and bars earlier, but this can also apply to planes flying overhead if you are near an airport, or just simply loud neighbors. If you detect anything that annoys you the day you are there, think of how you would feel hearing or smelling that every day.

Look for warning signs.
Not literal warning signs, but simply things that could indicate red flags in the area. Look at the curb appeal of nearby homes. Those homes that are run down, have cluttered yards, or just have a general lack of property maintenance may signal a downward turn in the area. The same goes for abandoned buildings or vandalism in the area. Also see if there are a lot of “For Sale” signs or rental properties in the neighborhood. Rentals may not initially seem like a red flag, but homes that are not owner-occupied are less likely to be well cared for, and can ultimately affect the value of the homes around them.

Creating your Wishlist

If you have ever watched House-Hunters on HGTV, you know that one of the first things the real estate agent asks the clients is what they are looking for in a home. You will also know that some of these couples have a wishlist that is a mile long. If you come to your agent with a wishlist like this, be prepared to have to compromise down the line. With a long wishlist, it will be extremely hard to find a house that ticks all the boxes, which can lead to frustration during your home search. To avoid this, and possible disappointment, you need to be able to distinguish your needs from your wants.

The Needs.
The needs column of your wishlist will include home features that you are not willing to sacrifice. It is also the things that you would ultimately be ok with paying more to have. Some examples may be having enough bedrooms for everyone in the house, an open floor plan, or location (as mentioned above in the neighborhood selection). You may also have some obscure needs, like needing a home that is wheelchair accessible. These are the must-have features and the potential deal-breakers in your home search – the things you cannot live without.

The Wants.
This category is tricker. Many people have a hard time distinguishing what they want in a home from what they need. These are the items that you desire in a home, and that could play a big role in the decision process, but aren’t complete necessities. One way to decide if something is a need or a want, is if you find yourself saying something like, “A pool would be nice.” The “would be” is the key. Yes, it is desired, but not necessary. Another way to look at it, is that the wants are things that can be added or changed on your own. Heart-set on granite countertops but the home you love has laminate? You can always change that later. Also keep in mind that many of the wants are things that will add a higher price tag to the home, and because of that you may have to cut out some of your wants to stay within your budget.

Where to Start.
Always start with the basics and go from there. Things like number of beds and baths, location, and specific home features that you need will go at the top of the list. Then you can move onto the other details. There are many home wishlists online where you can fill out your needs and wants on paper. This will help you visualize your priorities and keep them straight during your home search. Giving a copy to your real estate agent will also help them to know what your priorities are, and to better assist you in the process.

Any questions on the process? Ready to find your perfect home? Let us know!

Watch for part 3 in the buying process soon.

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About the Author

Shannon Jones has been selling real estate since 1998 and specializes in listing and marketing homes. She has consistently been one of the top Realtors in the Long Beach area. Prior to her award-winning career in real estate with the Shannon jones Team, Shannon has had successful careers in journalism and public relations. She holds a bachelors degree from UC Irvine and a masters degree from UC Berkeley. Shannon holds E-Pro, CDPE (Certified Distressed Property Expert), and PSC (Pre-Foreclosure Specialist) certifications. Shannon is very personable and maintains a very strong moral compass, always putting the best interest of home buyers/sellers above monetary goals. A California native, Shannon enjoys gardening, travel, reading, cooking and poker when she’s not selling homes MY DESIGNATIONS Lic# 01247705 | CDPE (Certified Distressed Property Expert) | E-Pro | PSC (Pre-Foreclosure Specialist) MY SERVICE AREAS Anaheim Bellflower Buena Park Carson Cerritos Cypress Downey Fountain Valley Garden Grove Huntington Beach La Palma Lakewood Long Beach Los Alamitos Los Angeles County Norwalk Orange County Rossmoor San Pedro Seal Beach Signal Hill South Bay Westminster

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