Checking Out The New Neighborhood



We're checking out the neighborhood.

Checking out a new neighborhood?


You’re about to move into a new home or apartment. From first glance the neighborhood looks like a great place to live or raise children. The house or apartment you’ve located seems like a gem. You love the kitchen and the layout of the rooms. You’re convinced if you don’t move on it quickly someone else will beat you to it. Yet you don’t want to be rushed or make a huge mistake. A friend suggests checking out the neighborhood first, but where should you begin? Why not start with a neighborhood review? We’ll show you how.


Check out your neighbors.

At first glance this house looks great. It’s in my budget, it seems well kept, but what about the neighbors?

There are a multitude of issues to consider as you search for a new home. Often a job or school for the kids will severely restrict the area or areas you consider living in. And sometimes it’s necessary to put up with several things you’d rather not have to deal with at all. Thus, while the following list is meant as a way to avoid obvious problems, it’s not always possible to avoid everything on the list, and sometimes it’s necessary to settle for certain trade-offs.


Ultimately, we’re talking about the quality of life, so to be sure you have the best idea what you’re getting into we strongly encourage you to research the surrounding neighborhood before you go to rent or buy. Here’s a great list to get started:


Knock on a few doors and get to know the people you'll be living by.

Check in with your potential new neighbors. They could end up being your new best friends or worst enemies.

Noisy neighbors: One way to prevent getting stuck with noisy neighbors is make multiple visits to the neighborhood at varying times of the day prior to renting or buying a home. As you visit, get out of your car and walk around. Don’t be afraid to knock on doors and tell people you’re planning on moving in and are checking out the neighborhood. Ask about kids, pets, and particularly any problems such as a noisy teen or couple who constantly plays loud music.


Poor (Stressed) Parenting: Along with noisy children you might run into to a situation where parents are constantly yelling and shouting at their kids, or at each other. Poor parenting might also show up as a stray child who always ends up in trouble or causes mischief. When this happens next door it can be impossible to ignore and create unwanted stress.



That dog next door keeps me up all night!

There’s no mystery this neighbor has a dog. The question is do they let it bark?

Noisy Pets: Find out who’s got dogs in the neighborhood and how far away they’ll be from your new home. Also try to find out which dog owners make an effort to keep their dogs from barking incessantly. A noisy dog is usually a lonely or poorly trained pet, so in a way it’s reflection of the your potential neighbor’s capacity to care. Beyond dogs, some people keep chickens or other pets that can be equally noisy or generate obnoxious “barnyard” smells.



The important thing is know what you're getting into.

Guess whose clucking behind this fence? Looks like the neighbors raise chickens.

You can’t always avoid a noisy animal. Plus, there’s nothing to prevent a neighbor from getting a new one, but check around before you leap. Of course, if you adore pets or are all about organic farming, knowing your neighbor has a dog or raises organic eggs can be a good thing.


Neighbors aren’t the only source of noise that might make a new home less than optimal. Other potential sources of noise vary widely. Here are just a few to consider:


This firetruck is ready to put out a fire.

Have a fire station nearby means you’ll be hearing lots of sirens.

Fire or Police Station Nearby: If there’s a station within a few blocks, or you’re new home is on a major traffic route, expect to hear sirens going off at all hours of the day.


Hospital Nearby: The same holds true if you live near a hospital. Expect to hear a constant stream of vehicles racing up the street and ambulance sirens going on and off without notice. Again, there might be a trade off here if you or a family member has poor health and require constant medical attention.


A cement truck on the way to a construction site.

A big construction project nearby could mean lots of heavy truck noise–at least as long as the construction continues.

Construction, Gravel Pit or Landscape Business Nearby: Check around the area by car. Also pull up your potential neighborhood on a website like Google Maps and look at satellite pictures to see what else you can find. Any big construction project or a landscape business is bound to generate constant noise from heavy earth-moving machinery, dump trucks or conveyor belts. And any ongoing construction will come with compressor, saw, drill or other noise from morning until night.


There are some trade-offs.

Hear that bell? School’s in session.

School Nearby: If you want your children to attend a particular school, then living close can be a real benefit. However, living right next door may have some serious trade-offs. Don’t be surprised to hear frequent bells to announce the change of classes or recess. And don’t be surprised to hear bands marching on the field or crowd noise from well-attended baseball, football or soccer games.


Firing Range: Is there an open air firing range within a mile of your potential new home? Gun noise can travel long distances especially when the wind is just right and it can be extremely upsetting for family pets even if you learn to ignore it.


I hear the ferry boat coming in!

Living near the water can be a mixed blessing. The sites and sounds of the ocean are beautiful, but when that fog settles in get ready to cover your ears.

Train or Ferry Noise: If you live anywhere near a train track (or even several miles away) don’t be surprised if you hear loud train noise. This can be a bigger issue if you live near any type of high volume train crossing as trains may be required to blow their horns a number of times at all hours of the day and night. The same holds true if you live near the water and there’s a nearby ferry landing or lighthouse. When the fog rolls in you’ll hear the fog horn.


A bus stop sign.

Living on a bus line makes for an easy commute, that is if you don’t mind all the bus noise.

Bus Traffic: Living on or near a bus route may mean a quick and easy access to your commute. Yet unless that bus is all electric expect to hear heavy engine noise that coincides with the bus schedule. And if you’re located on or near a hill you can add the shift of gears not only from buses but also from trucks or other large vehicles.


What's in your neighborhood?

This apartment is at the rear of the building off the street so there’s much less noise.

Busy Street: If you live directly on a busy street you can usually get used to the flow of most traffic. What’s harder to get used to is the sound of a piercing siren, the thump-thump-thump from a someone’s maxed out speakers, the growling roar of a racing motorcycle, grinding gears, and so on. If your options are limited and there’s little choice, at least try to live on the back side of an apartment building or perhaps in the house behind the one facing the street. Even 50 or 100 feet of separation can make a huge difference to the overall volume of noise.


I hate airplane noise, but it's hard to avoid.

Living under a major air traffic corridor can really wear on the nerves.

Air Traffic: You can get used to most any noise that’s fairly constant, yet noise does take a toll on nerves. Search on airplane noise and your city to find out more about the noise generated by commercial or military air traffic in your area. Most cities with a major airport nearby will have certain areas within them that get much higher air traffic and the associated noise. Avoid them if possible. At the same time, don’t overlook a private airport nearby that serves smaller planes. These planes often fly much closer to the ground and can be extremely loud and obnoxious.


If potential noise problems haven’t scared you away or just don’t matter, you may also want to check out the following:


A poorly maintained home.

This house has been abandoned for several months. The lack of care is bringing all the surrounding property values down.

Neighbor’s Landscaping: How does your potential new neighbor care for his or her yard? Has the lawn been mowed recently or is the grass a foot tall? Are shrubs near the lot line pruned? Will tall trees near the lot line shed leaves and debris? How a neighbor takes care of his yard can be an indication whether he’ll work with you on issues affecting your new property. If you constantly blow or sweep your drive because the neighbor won’t deal with his yard it can be a  constant irritation and generate bad feelings.


Junky neighbor houses make for an eyesore.

Is the junk piling up next door? Is this a construction project in progress or the usual state of affairs? Find out.

Junky Yard Next Door: Is there junk piling up next door? Is there a car that’s sitting in the yard with weeds growing up around it? Is the fence falling down? A poorly maintained home next door means just one thing: Your new neighbors don’t care that their actions affect the people living around them. It’s certainly something to consider as you decide what ongoing hassles you’re willing to deal with on a day-to-day basis.



Walk around and check out the neighbors.

Though the swing set is visible and might attract a small child at least this neighbor has gated it off.

Negligent Neighbors: Beyond the unsightliness of junk next door is the potential for a more serious problem. Trash piled high can be an easy target for an arsonist and that could put your home at risk for fire. A broken swing set next door could attract a small child and put them at risk of injury. A swimming pool or hot tub without a gate poses the risk of drowning for a small pet or child. A broken deck stairs or railing might increase the likelihood of a fall. Don’t ignore the potential problems next door as you decide where to live.


Sex Offenders: Check with local police for registered sex offenders living in the area. No one wants to put their child at risk, and unless you investigate on your own you could end up living next door to someone you want to avoid at all costs.


Blackberries crawling over the fence.

Are plants trying to jump the fence? Looks like this neighbor doesn’t care his bushes are out of control.

Home Business Next Door: For many people, a home business is more than a job—it’s a potential source for growing long-term wealth. Yet some home business owners clearly make better neighbors than others. At issue is the type of business itself. Does your potential neighbor perform work like grinding, sawing, or cutting in their garage or on their driveway? Are there constant deliveries and the associated noise from vans and trucks? Are dangerous chemicals or irritants stored in our around the home that pose a risk for kids or pets? Does your neighbor run a sound studio for a grunge band in his basement or garage? It pays to know what neighbors are up to and how they make a living.


The Neighborhood Association (Condo Association): If you’re moving into a new home or condo, don’t sign a deal without getting a look at the minutes of the Association’s ongoing meetings. Some neighborhoods have associations that are largely defunct. That can be good if you don’t want others telling you want to do. It can also be bad if people park on the street in front of your house, won’t repair their fences, paint their house a horrid color, won’t mow their lawns, etc. And for condos, shared maintenance applies to the condition of the building you live in as well your neighbor’s behavior. Improperly run associations can run short of funds to make needed repairs or become constant irritants to those who don’t fall in step with the elite who run the association. Know what you’re getting into before you buy.


Lighting at night is also worth checking into.

A track and field next door could be a great option for getting exercise. It might also mean lots of extra traffic and lights blazing away late into the night.

Lighting: For some no street lighting could mean a greater risk of crime. For others baseball or soccer field lights burning late into the night next door could mean it’s impossible to get enough sleep. And let’s not forget those neighbors who have a house or yard light aimed directly into a bedroom next door either by chance or on purpose. Do a drive by after dark to see how the neighborhood looks and sounds after the sun goes down.



Living in low lying areas poses its own risks.

Living near a stream is great until the flood waters come. Make sure your home doesn’t lie in a flood plain.

Low Lying Flood Zone: You can think you’re out of a flood zone and still get hit when an unexpected storm dumps several inches of rain all at once. Those in low lying areas or people whose houses sit at the bottom of a slope are often shocked to learn their home lies in the flow. Yet a surrounding neighborhood can also impact drainage in unexpected ways. New construction up the street or on that acreage next door can impact the way water drains from and into the surrounding land. In spite of tighter restrictions on builders to keep water from flowing off site, higher home density, more pavement, and more roofs in the area means water can flow where it’s not supposed to.


Neighbor's impact our quality of life.

Tall trees next door may provide great shade in summer, but expect leaves and debris to fall throughout the year. This neighbor’s trees impact the driveway next door.

Property Tax Rates: If you’re renting, property taxes may not automatically appear on your radar, yet some cities and counties have substantially higher rates and that extra cost gets passed along in the form of increased rents. For homeowners, the impact of high tax rates is much more immediate and direct since you get to see and pay the tax bill. Thus, if you decide to locate near a county line, you might be a house or two from substantially lower or higher property taxes rates and the services or lack thereof that are associated with paying the resultant taxes.


City Limits: It pays to determine whether or not your live within city limits. Residents of a city may have substantially more services like street lighting, sewers, sidewalks, better road maintenance, better fire protection, and more police protection than those living in the county. Learn how your potential neighborhood fits into the cities current and/or future plans.


A reserved parking stall.

Does the apartment or condo have sufficient parking? Check it out or you could end up parking on the street.

Water and Sewer: Is the potential home you’re interested in served by a city or county water and sewer service or is the property served by a private well and a septic tank? Though private wells and septic systems are less common in cities, many home owners in more rural areas have to fend for themselves. A well needs regular service and testing. A septic system requires a working drain field and still may require occasional pumping. In addition, some private well systems are shared among multiple owners. For that to work as it’s supposed to you have to figure out how to get along with the people involved (i.e. your new neighbors). And though that sounds easy on the surface, people with high water needs like those with swimming pools or those growing produce or large gardens can easily upset the balance.


Make sure you have access to all the goods and services you use all the time.

This gas station is just down the street and does service. That’s good. I’ll need a place to take the car.

Local Services: Beyond all the things you may hope to avoid, don’t forget to check on the things you need and use on a daily or weekly basis. For example, is there a grocery store and pharmacy nearby? Do you like the stores that are easily accessible? How close is your nearest bank branch and cash machine? What about a gas station? Auto repair place? Is there a daycare in the area? How far is it to a church you may frequent? Is there a gym nearby or will you have to drive miles to find one? Are there sidewalks so your kids won’t have to walk on the street? Is there a playground or park nearby? How far is it to your child’s school? How far is the doctor, dentist, hospital? Etc.


It should go without saying that something is bound to come up that will likely bother you about your new neighbors or neighborhood once you move in. Yet spending a little time up front to determine what’s most important to have close by, and what’s most important to avoid at all costs can vastly improve the chances you’ll be happy in the long run.


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