Before you go out condo hunting, you need to decide in which neighborhood(s) you’re going to look. Since you’re buying for the long term (ideally, five years or more), you want to be confident you’ll still love where you live down the road – and that when you go to sell, the property (and neighborhood) will retain its value. Here’s a checklist of things to consider:
1.) What neighborhoods do you gravitate towards now? This is perhaps the best place to start – if you already go to a neighborhood regularly, you know its ins and outs, you obviously like it enough to make it a point to go there and most likely you have fun there. That said, be wary of confusing a neighborhood where you like going out with a neighborhood where you’d enjoy living. Sometimes, they can be one and the same – other times, not.
2.) Things you need in the neighborhood. If you love to cook, is there a grocery store or two that you’ll have easy access to and that has high-quality produce you’ll need? If you need to be impeccably dressed for your career, are there plenty of dry cleaners in the neighborhood? If you never cook, are there cheap-and-easy take-out or delivery places available? What about banks, clothing stores, pharmacies, convenience stores and so on? Make sure the day-to-day establishments you need are nearby.
3.) Age of people who live in the neighborhood. If you’re buying property, most likely you’re more than just a little out of college. You may find a great neighborhood that seems like a lot of fun … but if most of the people who live there are carefree twenty-four-year-old renters, and you’re thirty-two and thinking of having kids, it may not be the best fit. Conversely, if you’re lucky enough to be able to buy at age twenty-six, you may not want to buy in a neighborhood dominated by families, many of whom have teenage kids.
4.) How much green space do you need? If you jog, if you love nature, if you simply need a park or two nearby to feel refreshed, make sure that whatever neighborhood you choose has some green space.
5.) Fun things to do. Some people rarely go out and are content to watch movies at home on a Friday night. If this describes you, it may be to your benefit to choose a sleepy area where there’s not much to do – you’ll probably save some money, get a bit larger place, and not at all feel like you’re missing out. Plus, you’ll not have to deal with the noise and hassle that comes from living in a more hopping neighborhood.
On the other hand, if you do like nice restaurants, local concerts, street festivals and trendy bars, there are few things better than having them right out your front door. If so, find a neighborhood that has the activity you crave.
6.) Current property values. Of course, you want something you can afford. Certainly, you may be priced out of some of your favorite neighborhoods – after all, the most popular neighborhoods are usually also the most expensive. That said, if property values are extremely cheap, it may be a warning sign – perhaps it’s not such a good investment to buy there. In other words, if demand in a neighborhood is extremely low, figure out why before you buy.
7.) Safety. What are the crime rates in the neighborhood? Usually, your local police department will have statistics. The amount of crime you’re willing to tolerate is up to you – and, obviously, the less safe the neighborhood, the cheaper its condos will be. That said, don’t buy into a neighborhood where you’re afraid or that’s so crime-ridden that you couldn’t image selling for a profit. Take a visit. Walk around the neighborhood at night, as well as during the daytime. Do you feel comfortable? Is this a place where you’re willing to make an investment?
8.) How established is the neighborhood? This issue closely connects with the neighborhood’s property values and, to some extent, its crime rates.
If a neighborhood is extremely popular right now, it may be at its peak – and so may its property values. If you’re thinking of buying into the popular neighborhood in your city, you may be buying into a bit of a bubble.
That said, if you see signs that the neighborhood is picking up but hasn’t quite yet, the neighborhood’s property may be relatively undervalued – and you may do quite well for yourself when you sell a few years down the road.
Or, if the neighborhood’s been solidly established for decades, you’ll know that you’re buying into something relatively stable.
Finally, if a neighborhood is on the downswing – it used to be popular, but property prices have been plummeting and crime is on the rise… be careful, and be able to answer the question: What makes you so sure the neighborhood’s property values won’t continue to drop? Because if they do, you’ll be the one to lose out.
9.) Commuting. Don’t buy into a neighborhood where your commute is hellacious, even if you don’t plan on keeping your job for too long. It’s not worth making every weekday morning miserable until you find a different job. And keep in mind how you get around – if you don’t have a car, try to be off a main subway line. Not just the bus line that happens to take you right to your current job.
And if you do have a car, consider how car-friendly the neighborhood is before you buy. Are there parking spaces? Do most condos for sale come with parking? Will you have easy access to the freeway, if that’s what you need?
10.) Special circumstances. Sometimes, there’s a special reason why it may be worth buying into a neighborhood. For example, in New York right now the Second Avenue Subway is under construction. Many areas along Second Avenue are now noisy, less pedestrian-friendly and unsightly because of the construction … however, three years from now, you’d be living in a place right next to a brand new subway line. Is this something you’d be willing to do? If there’s construction or some other project that will be done in a few years, is it worth it to you to ride it out and get the benefit of what’s to come? – and likely a very nice resale price once you move.
Ultimately, when you’re looking at neighborhoods, you’re looking at three things: what you need, what you can afford and what you expect the future property values to be. It may seem difficult, but you should make sure that whatever neighborhood you choose meets your expectations in all three criteria. That way, you’ll feel much more comfortable in your search – and you’ll be more likely to buy a place you’re happy with long-term.