Planting Roots: Finding Your Ideal Neighborhood as a First-Time Homebuyer

Planting Roots: Finding Your Ideal Neighborhood as a First-Time Homebuyer

First-time homebuyers have many decisions, including which neighborhood to choose. Your neighborhood is as essential as the house and should be a major factor when house hunting.

Here’s what to consider.

How Do I Choose a Good Neighborhood?

Did you know you can find what feels like the perfect house and turn it into the worst one if it’s not in the right area?

A ‘good neighborhood’ is subjective. What you might think is great may not be ideal for someone else, and vice versa.

Most people would agree, however, that a good neighborhood has the following in common:

  • Low crime rate
  • Affordable taxes
  • Great schools
  • Convenient amenities
  • A great community

You can take that list and make it more personal to your own needs to help you determine which neighborhood is best for you.

Steps to Take Before Researching Neighborhoods

It probably sounds overwhelming to find a neighborhood that checks all the boxes in the list above, right?

Here are some simple steps to make it easier.

  • Write a list of your priorities and preferences

Think of this as a ‘needs and wants’ list. There are likely factors you absolutely need, like a low crime rate or maybe a church of your denomination nearby. Then, there are the preferences or wants. These factors would be nice but won’t make or break your decision.

Having this list of priorities and preferences can help you locate the right neighborhood because you’ll instantly know whether it meets your needs after reading a listing or talking to a real estate agent about an area.

  • Name your Amenities

Everyone has certain amenities they need nearby to feel whole. As we said above, it could be a church, a type of school, or even a specific grocery store. If you prefer to avoid driving, you may want a grocery store within a few minutes of a neighborhood or a school within walking distance.

  • Busy City or Small Town

Along the lines of amenities is the need to determine whether you want to live in a big or small city. Big cities often have amenities on every corner, plenty of recreational activities, and often higher prices.

Smaller towns may be more affordable but less available within a short distance. If it’s a more rural area, you may not have many neighbors nearby, so you must decide what you prefer.

  • Consider your Commute

If you work outside the house, your commute should play an important role in where you plant roots. You might fall in love with the house only to discover that the commute is longer than you can withstand.

Consider how long you’re willing to commute and set your search radius within the limit. This ensures you don’t bid on a house with an unbearable commute, leaving you with buyer’s remorse.

  • Distance from Family or Friends

If you’re moving away from home for the first time or renting near family and friends, moving too far away may not be high on your priority list. When choosing a neighborhood, consider the distance you want between those closest to you.

Do you want to be within the closest proximity possible, or are you comfortable putting some distance between you?

What Factors to Consider When Looking for a Good Neighborhood

After creating your lists and deciding what you can and cannot tolerate, it’s time to determine the factors you should consider when looking for a good neighborhood.

Crime Rate

Crime rates are important for many reasons. Obviously, you want to live in a safe area, but they can also affect your insurance rates and the home’s resale value. is a great site to check an area’s crime rate.

School Systems

You might not think about schools if you don’t have kids or aren’t married, but they are important even if you never have kids. Areas with good school districts often have higher resale values and greater demand, which is good for your investment.

Of course, if you have or will have kids, you probably want to send them to good schools. While private school is always an option, living in an area with an excellent public school system is definitely a perk. GreatSchools is a great option to check an area’s school ratings.


If you’re not big on driving or don’t have a car, you should concern yourself with the area’s walkability. Walk Score is a great resource to check how an area rates for not having a car to get to local amenities.

Public Transportation

If you don’t have a car, or even if you do, public transportation may be necessary to you. Most major cities have a great public transportation system but do your research. Ensure the method you prefer, whether train, bus, or rideshare, is a viable option and, of course, fits within your budget.

Homeowner’s Association

A homeowner’s association can help keep your neighborhood safe and looking good, and it may even provide amenities. But it can also be a thorn in your side, limiting what you can and cannot do with the home. Plus, there’s usually a monthly or annual fee.

Consider whether you want to deal with an HOA and, if you don’t mind, what amenities you would like them to provide, such as a clubhouse, exercise gym, or pool.

Job Availability

If you’re already employed, you may not care about the local job market, but what if you lose your job or want to change? This is especially important if you have a long commute; you may get sick of it sooner than you think.

Look at the local companies and industries that are most prevalent in the area. Are there jobs you could do, or would you be stuck with a long commute to get to the companies that hire people in your position?

5 Ways to Research a Neighborhood Before Buying a House

Now that you know what to look for when buying a house, next you must learn how to research the areas to get the necessary information.

Here are some tried-and-true ways to check out a neighborhood.

1.    Use the Internet

The internet can provide a wealth of information, from home values to an area’s crime rate and everything in between. Check reputable websites to get your information, such as the county or city’s official sites and local school district webpages, and check maps of the area.

2.    Visit Areas in Person

Many people mistakenly only visit the homes they want to see and forget to check out the neighborhood. Finding a home is great, but remember that you need to live in the neighborhood. When you find a home you think you might like, check out the area at different times and days of the week.

For example, drive or walk through it on a Tuesday afternoon, Thursday morning, and Saturday night. You may find the area is completely different on weekend nights than quiet weekday mornings, or vice versa, and you wouldn’t want to find out you don’t like the vibe after buying a house.

3.    Talk to Locals

Don’t be afraid to talk to local homeowners, business owners, and anyone you see walking around. Get a feel for the area, how friendly the people are, and listen to what they have to say about the area. You can usually learn much more about a house by talking to nosey neighbors than in any real estate listing.

4.    Work with a Real Estate Agent

It costs nothing for buyers to work with real estate agents, so take advantage. Find an agent who is an expert in the area and ask as many questions as you can. If you aren’t sure what area you want to live in yet, tell the agent your priorities and preferences and let him/her steer you in the right direction.

5.    Talk to your Mortgage Lender

Of course, a major factor in where you can move is what you can afford. Talking to your mortgage lender can help you determine how much house you can buy, which may narrow your options, making it easier to decide where to plant your roots.

Final Thoughts

Before planting your roots, be sure to do your research. Know what you want or must have in an area, and then do as much research in person and online as possible. There are numerous resources available to you, but the best resources are often those you find in person, such as combing the neighborhood or talking to locals!