We're the first people to advocate that you should hire a great real estate agent to help guide you through your home search. However, that said, it's also important to know that you can't rely on them to tell you everything. In fact, there's a lot that agents legally aren't allowed to share due to the Fair Housing Act.
This means that, in some cases, it's up to you to do your own research. With that in mind, we've taken the liberty of listing three important factors that you should look into on your own before you decide to settle down in any particular neighborhood. We recommend doing a thorough check regardless of whether you're moving in to the center of town or an up-and-coming area. Put simply, it's always better to be safe than sorry.
While most of us have a tendency to think that nothing bad will ever befall us, that's, unfortunately, not always the case. Before moving to a new area it's important to know if you'll be okay walking home alone at night or if you're at higher risk for a break-in, so that you can take the necessary steps to keep yourself safe.
AreaVibes is a great place to start your search; it ranks your neighborhood, address, or zip code with a letter grade, based on crime statistics, to help you get a sense of the area. Plus, if you're unhappy with the result, it will suggest other neighborhoods nearby that may be a better fit. If you're the type of person who wants more details, Neighborhood Scout is a paid service, but it will generate an in-depth report for you about crime statistics in your area.
Families with young children may want to take their search one step further and check to see if there are any registered sex offenders in the immediate area you're looking to calling home. Family Watchdog is a free website that lists the locations of known registrants nearby, as well as identifying characteristics.
For many parents, school district is a defining characteristic of their home search. After all, it only makes sense that you would want to ensure that your kids are being offered the best available education. If you're moving to a new area, consider checking Great! Schools first. It shows you all the available schools in the near vicinity, plus a number rating from 1-10. It even allows you to read reviews from other parents of children currently in attendance.
Even if having a family isn't on your to-do list right now, it's still worth it to take a peek at the quality of the local school district before you buy. Put simply, the school district affects resale value. If you buy in an area where the schools are doing well, in the future, you'll be more likely to attract buyers and a higher sale price.
Even though it may seem counterintuitive to be looking at resale values before you even put in an offer on a home, it never hurts to plan for the future. Ideally, you'll want to settle in an area where property values are on the rise, so that eventually you'll be able to capitalize on added equity, as well as a place where homes sell relatively quickly.
Your real estate agent is actually the best source for this. Their multiple listing service will likely give them access to the property's resale history and they'll be able to show you that information and let you make your own assumptions. However, you'll probably need to ask them for it directly.
Keep in mind, resale values aren't necessarily set in stone. If the recession in 2007 taught us anything, it's that property values can change quickly, so it's unwise to go in assuming that any property will be a guaranteed money-maker. That said, we encourage you to check resale values because you should do everything in your power to try to set yourself up for future success.