When you buy a new house, you’re not just investing in that home. You’re investing in a community. Here are a few things you can do to find a community that’s the best fit for you.
• Think about your lifestyle needs. Consider the type of community that would feel most comfortable to you. For example, would you like to be close to nightlife or do you prefer a more tranquil setting? Do you think you’d like to live in a close-knit small town, a larger suburb, or perhaps an exurban area? Would you like to be near a vibrant town center, trails, or lots of shopping?
Often when people are new to an area they’ll start out by describing their ideal community to friends, family, or colleagues who live nearby and asking for their recommendations. You might also Google terms like “Living in Holliston” or “Southborough videos” to check out scenes of the town, or see what people are saying about that community online. You can also read more detailed community profiles in the annual “Best Places to Live” rankings in Boston Magazine or Money Magazine. From there, talk with people who actually live in that town to learn what they like and don’t like about the area.
• Consider what’s nearby. More and more home buyers are focusing on the walkability of neighborhoods to amenities such as parks, trails, public transit, and more. If walking access to nearby amenities is important to you, check out sites like Walkscore.com, which calculate the walkability of any neighborhood.
• Check out the schools. The first place many people go to learn about area schools is online rankings through Boston Magazine, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, and other publications that rate the country’s top public high schools. They tend to rate schools based on criteria such as per pupil spending; student-teacher ratios; graduation rates; special programs; MCAS, SAT, and AP test scores; and more. Some towns also include detailed academic profiles on their school district’s website.
You can also find parents’ reviews at sites like GreatSchools.org and check with local mothers’ and newcomers’ clubs to hear firsthand from parents in the area about the pros and cons of the school system. If your child has special needs, it’s a good idea to also check with the superintendent’s office to find out what resources they offer.
• Map your commute. If you’re planning to take the T to work, visit www.mbta.com to find out the best routing from communities you’re interested in. The site offers several handy tools, including a trip planner, as well as a “nearby” feature that tells you the closest train or subway stop to any address. If you’re planning to drive to work, map the route and if possible, take a “test drive” to see what it’s really like during rush hour.
Regardless of your mode of transit, it’s a good idea to factor in the costs of your commute when deciding where to live. It’s surprising how quickly costs like tolls, gas money, car maintenance, and parking can add up.
• Decide how close you really want to be to your neighbors. In many cul-de-sac neighborhoods, people often get to know each other through community events like cookie exchanges, block parties, and book clubs. This can be great for newcomers to the area looking to make new friends. However, if you’re a more keep-to-yourself person, you may prefer a home with a larger, more private lot.
• See what locals are up to. Checking out the local newspaper or reading the latest town meeting minutes is a great way to see what’s happening in the community. For example, there may be issues under consideration, such as building a new school that will likely cause property taxes to increase.
• Prioritize. Oftentimes people living in the Boston suburbs find they need to make tradeoffs in terms of commute time vs. home size and amenities. Prioritizing what factors (commute time; age, size, type of home; school system, etc.) are most important to you can help you hone in on the right community for your family’s needs. For example, numerous studies link happiness to short commutes, while other research has found that people who live further away from cities have less stress. Ultimately, these decisions are very personal. One person may be happier to live an hour from Boston in a brand new home, while another would be thrilled to live in a smaller house but get home earlier every night.
• Visit some neighborhoods and get a sense of prices. Once you narrow down your choices of community, talk with your buyer’s agent about what you’re looking for in a community. Ask them to show you the neighborhoods they think would best fit your needs and to share data on what homes in those areas are selling for.
Once you find the neighborhoods you like, here are some additional steps you can take to choose the best one.
• Check out crime statistics. There are many inexpensive mobile applications like CrimeReports.com that you can use to find crime statistics based on any location. Try these out when you’re visiting a home you’re considering buying. You can also call the local police station and ask for crime statistics for that region. While they are unlikely to tell you whether they think a particular neighborhood is safe or not, they can share crime reports, since these are public record.
• Find out about any neighborhood association rules. Some neighborhoods as well as historic districts have rules dictating what can be done to the yard or exterior of the house. Be sure you’re comfortable with these before making an offer on a home.
• Check out the neighborhood at different times of day or night. This will give you a real sense of noise issues, traffic patterns, and more.
• Walk the neighborhood. Take a stroll through the neighborhood and try it on for size. See if you feel comfortable there. And if you run into neighbors, you might consider asking them why they chose to live there. You may find this an enlightening conversation!Have a real estate question? Contact Kyle Mann to learn more about buying or selling your home in the Boston suburbs. Mann is a Realtor with Gibson Sotheby’s International Realty.