Buying A Home: Choosing Your Location
By Amy Fontinelle
Whether you are purchasing your home as an investment, a lifestyle upgrade or both, one of the most important decisions you will make is where you want to live. Your home's location will help determine not only the future value of your investment, but also many aspects of your everyday life. Here are some factors you should consider carefully when selecting a location.
The part of the country you choose to live in will have a major impact on your lifestyle. Particularly if you want to stay in your home for a long time, make this decision very carefully, taking into consideration the factors that are most important to you, like average home prices in the area, job opportunities in your field, proximity to loved ones and climate.
City vs. Suburb vs. Rural
The setting you choose within the city or town you select will affect the amount of peace and quiet you have, lot size (if you're buying a house), primary and secondary education options for your children, proximity to shopping, entertainment, medical services and anything else you might want or need, and more.
Within a particular area, different neighborhoods will have different characteristics. You'll want to pick the one that is the closest fit to your lifestyle and personality - a place where you'll feel comfortable and where you are likely to get along with your neighbors. You'll also want to try to live close to the places you visit frequently, like grocery stores, your job (if you plan to keep that job long-term), and, if you have kids, the schools you want them to attend.
If you have or are planning to have kids, school district is certainly an important consideration. Living in a good public school district will save you tens of thousands of dollars that you might otherwise be tempted to spend on private school. And even if you don't have kids, it may still be a good idea to consider the quality of neighborhood schools when choosing your location in order to maximize your investment. If you have difficulty finding a public school that meets your standards, you may have to pay a premium to live in a neighborhood with good schools. You will have to consider how that premium compares to the cost of paying for private school or sending your children to a sub-par educational institution. (Find out what factors increase property value because your house may not be one of them, check out Do Houses Really Appreciate?)
Proximity to Work
The length of your daily commute can have a significant impact on your disposable income, quality of life and how much time you get to spend at home with your family. How long of a commute can you endure? Are you planning to stay at your current job long-term or do you expect to switch jobs in the near future? If you plan to stay at your current job, how close to work do you want to live? If you plan to switch jobs, what are the job prospects in or near the area where you'd like to live? (For more insight on commuting, see Extreme Commuting: Is It For You?)
For most people, safety is a top consideration. You'll often pay less to live in an area with higher crime, but if you'll have to live in fear or if you one day become a victim, no price discount will be worthwhile. It may also be harder to resell your home or get a good price for it if you decide to sell.
Proximity to Friends and Family
The best home may not feel very homey if you live too far away from your friends and family to see them on a regular basis. On the other hand, your friends and family might end up moving at some point, so make sure this isn't your only reason for choosing a location.
Proximity to Leisure Activities
What do you enjoy doing in your free time? If you have season tickets for a particular sports team, you may not want to live too far from their stadium. If you love to go out to eat, you might not be happy living somewhere with few restaurants. On the other hand, if your favorite thing to do is stay home, you might have more choices available to you when it comes to this aspect of choosing your location.
Once you've narrowed down the factors that are most important to you in a location, it's time to research that location to make sure you're getting what you bargained for, assuming you're not already familiar with the location. (To learn more about getting your money's worth by owning a home, read Measuring The Benefits Of Home Ownership.)
Research the Neighborhood
Facts and statistics are available online through websites, forums and message boards. What do the crime statistics look like? What is the average income? How many people have a college education? Do the statistics reflect the kind of neighborhood you'd feel comfortable living in? It's usually easy to find these statistics online through real estate websites. Statistics rarely tell the whole story, though, so try talking to current residents and the local police department for additional information.
Visit During the Day and at Night
What a neighborhood looks like on paper and how you feel when you're in it are not necessarily the same thing. Sometimes little details can make a big difference. For example, some neighborhoods have narrow roads, lots of cars parked on the street or distinctive architectural features that may not suit your tastes. If these things aren't what you envisioned in your ideal neighborhood, you may not want to live there no matter how great the statistics are.
Also, a neighborhood might feel comfortable during the day, but seem disconcerting at night. It's important to visit several on different days, at different times and in different weather conditions to get an accurate picture of the neighborhood's character. It can be hard to judge a neighborhood's character in the dead of winter or on a rainy day when everyone is cooped up indoors. You'll also want to check for things like how well the neighborhood is lit at night, which you can't observe during the day.
Who Are Your Potential Neighbors?
What kind of people live in the neighborhoods your are considering? Will you feel comfortable in the community? If you're not very religious, you might not want to live in an area that's dominated by a particular religious group. If you're a staunch Republican, you might not want to live in an area that's known for being particularly liberal-minded. It all depends on your beliefs and how open-minded you are. Some people prefer to live near others who are like them, some people don't want to live in a homogeneous environment and others don't care either way.
"Keeping Up with the Joneses" Factor
In some neighborhoods, people keep to themselves, and in others, there is pressure to keep up socially by doing things like joining country clubs, sending your kids to certain schools, owning certain types of vehicles, and the like. If you don't want this kind of pressure, don't choose a neighborhood that encourages it.
Once you have a good sense of what kind of neighborhood suits your needs, it's time to think about what kind of home you'd like. In the next section, we'll explore the pros and cons of condominiums, townhouses and houses. (For more on social pressure to spend, see Stop Keeping Up With The Joneses - They're Broke.)
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