Researching Your New Neighborhood

Canvassing the Neighborhood
 
Monica Schaefer
MilitaryByOwner Staff Writer
 
While the golden rule of real estate; "location, location, location" may seem a bit shopworn, it is an element that bears special consideration when looking for homes for sale or for rent. However, the information age has broadened the parameters of what to look for in a home with good "location".  
 
Military families are often limited in their search to areas that are close to their duty station, which can make finding the perfect area a bit more challenging.
 
As a mother of two, I know that my first consideration when looking for a home is the school districts. When we made a move to Yuma, Arizona I went on what I like to call, "school hunting leave". It was more important to me to find a school that fit our kids needs before finding a home that we would like. While I had the luxury of being able to visit each school and speak with administrators before making my decision, many military families are faced with making this substantial decision remotely.
 
This is where we turn to the vast amount of information that is available on the Internet. Let’s cover some of the resources available to you for researching your next home.
 
Schools
There are several online school review sites that provide parent reviews on teacher quality, principal leadership and parent involvement as well as test scores, ethnic breakdown and programs and culture.  Test scores are based on the most recent standardized test scores, which factors into the rating system, but parent reviews also have an effect on the overall rating. Parent reviews can shed insight into the overall culture or specific teachers, but it is important to remember that these reviews are based on individual experiences, which may differ from that of yours and your children.
 
Check out Greatschools.org and Schooldigger.com for free information or pay $34 for School System Report Card on Schoolmatch.com.
 
Cell Networks
It may sound a little crazy to search the Internet for information about cell networks near your proposed home, but with the increased dependence on cell phones and homeowners shying away from land lines, you would hate to realize after signing the documents that your current cell provider’s coverage does not work inside your home.  Sitting in your driveway or walking down the street to get coverage would get old very quick! Check your current providers coverage area on Opensignal.com.
 
Cable & Phone Providers
Many areas are serviced by only one provider, limiting your choices for television, phone and cable service. If you are moving from an area where you enjoy Verizon Fios to an area that is serviced only by a local company, this may be a deal breaker, so it is important to consider this when searching for a home. Allconnect.com provides you with a list of providers and available packages through an easy zip code search. They offer the opportunity to set up your services as well, or you can simply use it as a way to find providers in your area.
 
Homeowner Associations
We discussed the fees involved with living in a subdivision that has an homeowners association in our article, "Understanding Homeowners Association Fees", but outside of the fees, it is important to understand how the covenants and conditions can affect you as a homeowner or a renter.
 
If you are using an agent to find a home, they will be able to provide you with specifics about the fees and restrictions, but it may also be worthwhile to do an Internet search using phrases that include the development name and HOA or Homeowners Association to see if the residents of the development have shared their personal insight. Searching for a specific HOA may also turn up a community website that will shed light on community events, social networking and rules and regulations.
 
As a renter, you may not be responsible for the monthly HOA fees; however, you will be expected to follow the covenants and conditions of the neighborhood.
 
Future Developments/Improvements
The documentation you are presented when buying a home is overwhelming to say the least and buried somewhere in the mess are disclosures, if any, about future developments or improvements that may impact your residence. While the dates of proposed work may seem far off in the future, it is crucial that you take these plans under careful consideration. When we purchased our current home, we knew that there were plans for future developments and road extensions. We believed that the proposed changes were so far in the future that they would not impact us, however, 9 years later we are now facing changes in our school district boundaries and traffic patterns which will have a profound effect on our home value and children’s education.
 
The easiest way to access this information is to ask your agent or the current homeowner, however you may also want to contact the county’s Planning and Zoning Department.
 
 
 
Flood Zones
Flooding does not discriminate, so whether you are a homeowner or a renter, this is an aspect of the home location that you should research. For homeowners, being in a flood zone could result in having to carry costly flood insurance, which adds to the expense of home ownership. Renter’s personal property is not covered under the homeowner’s policy, so rental insurance is worth considering, however flood insurance is an additional expense and may cost more than the entire rental insurance policy itself.
 
If you are trying to determine if a home is in a flood hazard area, please view the maps on the FEMA website.
 
Environmental Factors
A quick check of the EPA website will provide you with information on concerns about air, water, pesticides and chemicals that may be present near the home.
 
Airport Zones
Listen and look up! Whether you are living near a military air base, regional or national airport you may want to be aware of that going in to the deal. The sounds of airplanes may not seem obtrusive during the waking hours, but depending on flight restrictions, this is a factor that may keep you up at night. Visit the FAA website for information on airport/aircraft noise issues.
 
Crime
Homeowners and renters alike want to believe that crime doesn’t happen in their neighborhood, but truth be told, crime is everywhere. However, not all crime is created equal, so researching the type of reported crimes in your area may help you sleep better at night. Spotcrime.com has a great map feature that will display the type, location, date and time of all reported crimes near the entered zip code or address.
 
Meth Labs
"Breaking Bad" fans will understand the consequences of discovering a home was used as a meth lab, but for those of you who prefer less violent television shows, living in a home used to manufacture methamphetamines can have long term health effects. The Drug Enforcement Administration registry map of clandestine laboratories will afford you the opportunity to search a particular address to see if it is a registered meth lab. Doing an Internet search of the property address may provide additional details as well.
 
Sexual Offenders
Burying your head in the sand will not diminish the risk posed to you or your family, so know about the individuals in your neighborhood that may be registered sex offenders. While there is not one website that will provide a list for all states, you can perform a search with the phrase "city, state, Meghan’s Law Registry" which will result in a list of sites you can search to find registered offenders in your area.
 
Stay Focused
 
Most home searches begin with the desired number of bedrooms or bathrooms, leading us to fall in love with the curb appeal or custom kitchen, but sometimes beauty really is skin deep. Before the love pheromones take over, grab your computer and research your new home just like you would a prospective date.  If you want to just get someone else’s opinion, try MilitaryTownAdvisor.   You may just find out that this home is not the one for you.