By Dave Twombly
What is the first criterion you consider when you are just getting started in your home search? Most likely, it’s the location or the neighborhood. You want to live in a place where you feel comfortable and that has the characteristics you desire. These considerations are specific to you and your family, of course. There might be many different neighborhoods that fit what you want, but how can you tell?
As you know, we are a young family that just moved. Typically I grow attached to the neighborhood I’m in (I guess I’ve been lucky in that regard) and am resistant to leaving it. When we started our search for our next home, I wanted to stay in our Mid Cambridge neighborhood. I thought our location had everything we wanted. We could walk to everything we needed. There were two supermarkets, each within a 10-15 minute walk. We could walk to more restaurants then you could shake a stick at.
Pharmacies, convenience stores and public transportation were all also just 10-15 minutes away. Heck, we even had a fire station close by, our daughter’s pediatrician was right around the corner and the hospital was at the end of our block. (Funny, you don’t think or care about these things when you are single or pre-child. Then you are reassured by them when you finally have the kid). When we were discussing our move, I wondered how could I possibly live without all of these things? I was sure that we needed to stay in our present neighborhood and I didn’t see any other way.
Yet, a funny thing happens when you start actually looking at new properties. Regardless of whether your search is for an apartment, a condo or a single family you realize that location costs money! You make a list of everything that you want in your location (in my case, what we already had) and plug them into your search. You realize that if you find every last thing you want, it’s going to cost you! What we found for the money four years ago no longer existed, even in today’s terrible economy. We couldn’t afford what we presently had, where we had it. So our search expanded to neighborhoods with which I wasn’t overly familiar.
How do you know if a neighborhood is right for you, particularly when you are not familiar with it? When looking to buy a place, most likely it’s not feasible to test a neighborhood for a year and then decide (I’m pretty sure you aren’t going to buy a place as a test case then sell a year or so later). Sure you can go knocking door to door in hopes of interviewing your future neighbors (but that also doesn’t sound like a lot of fun or too practical).
We found a property that worked for us (and that we could afford) but I wasn’t sure of the neighborhood. I didn’t see the conveniences that we had loved so much in our old place. (And staying in our old place wasn’t an option.) So, we spent time in the neighborhood and visited it often.
We hung out in the neighborhood at different times of the day. We drove in and around it extensively. We researched police blogs regarding crime and the sex offender list (yes, a little macabre but necessary when you have a child). We got out and walked all around and took note of what we saw. In addition to simply looking at the condition of the properties around us, we looked at who was in the neighborhood. We noticed lots of baby carriages and toys in the parks (we also noticed lots of parks). We noticed the spacing around each property. I looked at the height of the buildings, finding larger lots with mostly two story houses, which meant lots of sunlight in our neighborhood on the whole as well as in our property. We took the train out to the nearest T stop to note the commute (something that was important to us).
All of this might seem like a no brainer, something that perhaps you would automatically do. But looking for a new property is an emotional thing and it’s easy to overlook important details: did you notice those train tracks half a block away? Can you park on both sides of the street? Do most houses in the ‘hood have driveways, meaning that on-street parking will be easy for you? This process can be time consuming, but in our case it paid off. The new neighborhood, while lacking things I originally thought were essential, is awesome. My wife’s commute is a breeze (although we are farther out on the train line, our closer proximity to the train station makes it a wash), the area is quiet and we’ve found shops we use that aren’t far away (bonus– the store closest to us sells beer!). A neighborhood I didn’t initially consider has quickly become a neighborhood I love.