Making sure your new home’s neighborhood meets you and your family’s standards.

When you are looking to buy a home it is important to scope out the neighborhood your future home will be in.  Below are some tips to making sure you thoroughly do your new home’s neighborhood research:

HOA Rules and Regulations.  You might want to build a tall fence for backyard privacy, plant a food garden in your front yard or have bees, goats or other light livestock on your property – but your city’s regulations may or may not allow these things, depending on the zoning of your neighborhood. Similarly, you might want to paint your home a shade that isn’t allowed by the HOA rules, or have more cars than your desired home has “legal” parking spaces – HOA regulations may even go so far as to ban exterior satellite dishes, pets and even some internal home improvements.

Read the HOA rules and regulations disclosed by your next home’s seller very, very thoroughly to understand any such limitations before you buy. And if you’re considering any sort of urban farming or have plans to make major changes to the exterior of your home after closing, you might want to contact the city building and planning department before you remove your contingencies, to see what would and would not be involved in making those changes to that home.

Future Developments. Many states require that sellers disclose any manufacturing, commercial, airport or industrial zones that currently exist near the property. What is less clear to most buyers is the equally important issue of whether there are any proposals currently being considered by the powers that be that would create new zones that fall into these categories – proposals that could very well uptick the traffic, noise, odors and pollution that you’ll have to deal with in the home as time goes on. You should feel free to ask the seller flat out, but here’s where a call to the city and a plain old Google search for the neighborhood names and cross streets can also be helpful, to turn up news reports of relevant proposals and permit requests.  Ask your agent for guidance on other local sources you might be able to tap into.

Special Assessments by the HOA. HOA’s can impose special assessments to cover building and common area repairs and upgrades. And some cities,districts, neighborhoods and states vote in special assessments that are added onto local homeowners’ property tax bills for things like first responder services, street lighting, supplemental school funding and the like. Once these things have already been imposed, they are disclosed through title and HOA disclosures, but it’s best to know about them when they’re coming down the pike.

Reviewing the disclosed HOA reserves and financials – as well as recent newsletters and Board meeting minutes – can hip you to upcoming special assessments before they take effect, and paying attention to (or researching) recent local ballot measures can do the same for the governmental special assessments.

Neighborhood Crime. Crime rates are essential indicators of neighborhood desirability, although blanket labels of ‘safe’ vs. ‘dangerous’ neighborhoods are outdated and unhelpful, when it comes to directing a house hunt. Most buyers familiar with their towns know on a basic level whether a neighborhood has a reputation for being safe or being crime-riddled. Further, if you are buying on a budget that strictly limits your overall neighborhood options, the black-and-white, safe-or-not dichotomy does nothing to help you make more nuanced decisions about your house hunt.

Now, though, buyers have open access to crime report databases that previously could only be accessed via tedious, time-consuming and generally infeasible hours spent flipping through police records down at the station. And the availability of these records online has empowered much more sophisticated and meaningful ways of sorting this data, for the purposes of the average home buyer.

Social Events. Savvy buyers might like to know whether their neighborhoods have social amenities like block parties, newsletters, email lists, homeowner resources for vendors like child care and handyman services, and even neighborhood-specific social networks:

neighborhoodTechnological and communications capabilities.  When you’ve lived in one spot for a number of years, it’s easy to take your area’s technological capabilities for granted. For instance your provider(s) cell networks and reception capabilities (including 3G and 4G networks) might allow for incredible reception where you live, but not in another neighborhood across town. In fact, if you’re moving from a an urban area to a more rural one, you might be surprised at how spotty or non-existent cell service still is in some areas. In the same vein, many areas across the country are still waiting for the broadband and fiber optic cable infrastructure development that will allow residents to tap into digital television, phone and internet services.

Technological capabilities – or the lack thereof – are unlikely to be a deal-breaker if you’re planning to buy a home, but they are something that might help you prioritize among multiple neighborhoods or homes you’ve been considering.  Getting up to speed on what’s available can help you understand what additional changes you might have to make – and charges you might incur for making them – to optimize your technologies and services once you move. Contact your cell, cable, phone and internet providers to determine what’s available in your neighborhood-to-be; many of the major mobile carriers also have voice, data, 3G and 4G network coverage maps on their websites.