Are there restrictions on parking?
Some neighborhoods, particularly those with homeowners associations (HOAs), have surprisingly strict rules about where you can and cannot park your car or other vehicle. For instance, many HOAs forbid parking a work vehicle, such as a police cruiser or utility truck, overnight, even in your own driveway. Others have rules about how long your car can be left on the street, whether or not you can park an RV in your driveway, or even if you're allowed to leave the garage door open when you aren’t pulling your car in or out of the space. Other neighborhoods have very limited street parking, which can be a problem if you like to entertain.
How extravagant are holiday decorations?
Just about every town has a neighborhood or two that go all-out decorating for the holidays: strings of lights draped between houses, coordinated themes to give the neighborhood a cohesive look, handmade wooden cutouts portraying the 12 Days of Christmas stretched across the lawns of 12 neighboring homes. If you’re thinking of buying a house in such a neighborhood, be aware that traffic is likely to be a mess during the month of December, and consider how much you’ll be willing to participate in the festivities. You don’t want to be labeled the neighborhood Scrooge if holiday decor really isn’t your thing.
What’s the local crime rate?
No one wants to feel unsafe inside their own home. Get the facts before you move in by calling the local police station for the lowdown on the neighborhood's crime stats. Don’t expect your real estate agent to give you this information, as the Federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discussion of crime rates, demographics, or other statistics that could be used to discriminate against any protected group. Of course, you should also view the area with an eye for indications of potential crime: Do most of the homes have bars over the windows and doors? Is graffiti a problem? Pay attention to your instincts.
How close is the type of entertainment you enjoy?
Whether you love spending your weekends visiting museums, taking your kids to the zoo, catching the latest blockbuster the very day it releases, or enjoying a game of golf, the right neighborhood for you is one that's within reasonable distance of the things you like to do in your free time.
How far is it to the hospital?
You hope you’ll never need its services, but if you do, you’ll want the local hospital to be just that: local. If a medical emergency strikes, you don’t want a daunting drive to the hospital or a lengthy wait for help to arrive. When you're considering a potential neighborhood, take note of the distance to the nearest hospital as well as the nearest fire station and police station.
What’s the noise level?
A neighborhood may seem peaceful when you attend the open house and make your offer, but don’t assume that it's always so quiet. It’s a good idea to drive through the neighborhood at different times of day and on weekdays as well as weekends. Is there a heavy rush of traffic in front of the house every weekday evening? Do the people living in the corner house throw big parties every Saturday night? Is there a nearby playground that hosts early morning or nighttime soccer or softball games? If possible, ask the neighbors of the house you’re considering about the general noise level of the area.
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What’s the neighborhood's walkability score?
In recent years, “walkability” has become an important consideration when evaluating a neighborhood, the assumption being that pedestrian-friendliness leads to healthier and happier residents. Many factors are included in a walkability score, including the presence or absence of sidewalks, land use, types of buildings, number of crosswalks and other safety features for crossing streets, trees and landscaping, and, of course, the presence of places worth walking to, such as restaurants, entertainment, and shopping. Check out the website Walk Score, which assigns a walkability rating between 0 and 100 to neighborhoods across the country (and in Canada and Australia), with 100 being the best. Or, you can get a feel for it yourself by simply going for a stroll.
How good are the schools?
If you have school-aged children, the quality of the neighborhood schools is of paramount importance. But even if you don't have kids, you should still know how the local schools stack up in terms of test scores, academic progress, student-to-teacher ratios, discipline and attendance issues, and other measurements of school quality, because good schools generally translate into good property values. Ask your real estate agent about the local schools, or check performance measurements yourself on a website such as GreatSchools.org.
Where’s the nearest grocery store?
In some neighborhoods, there are several grocery stores within a radius of a few miles. In others, especially in rural areas, the nearest grocery store might be a half hour or more drive away. It’s always a good idea to know how far you’ll need to travel to pick up that half gallon of milk, dozen eggs, or head of garlic. The answer could mean the difference between a lovely home-cooked meal and ordering out for pizza once again.
Are there rules about the exterior appearance of the property?
While in any neighborhood you’ll generally be safe decorating the interior of your home however you like, the same is not necessarily true when it comes to the exterior of your house. Some neighborhoods, especially those with HOAs, have strict rules regarding what you can and cannot do to the outside of your home. For example, most HOAs limit the colors you can paint your home, and some go further, forbidding awnings over windows, political or advertising signs in the front yard, and even treehouses or swing sets in the backyard. Other neighborhoods restrict homeowners from doing anything that might block a neighbor’s view, such as planting a tall tree, erecting a shed, or putting up a shade structure over the patio.
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