The Home Search: Where to Start
The right home can be bought in the wrong neighborhood. The structure can be changed, or the home's layout can be altered, but the home's location cannot be, as it is attached to the land. Whether the move is across town, or across the country, deciding on the towns and neighborhoods to begin the home search is probably the first topic a Buyer's Agent will help a buyer to narrow down. Proximity to amenities, parks and recreational facilities, reputation of school districts, local government and town happenings, and commute time and proximity to major highways are all elements to what may make one neighborhood more desirable than another. In doing homework on the local area, there are at least two types of approaches. One approach involves online research, and the other is a more grassroots, feet-on-the-ground approach. A combination of the two will certainly give knowledge, and a reasonable sense, about the neighborhood that a buyer is looking to settle in, to ensure that they're happy there for years to come.
There are plenty of websites out there that will give a snapshot and more information about the town that a buyer is looking to move to. Many real estate websites that will allow a "search" based on town and bedrooms, bathrooms, and budget, will also have a link that will give a "market snapshot" of that town that a buyer is looking in. Examples of the type of information that can be found is the number of homes on the market, median sale price, average age of homeowner, population of the town, etc. To expand on that idea, a buyer can visit a town's website which will give more detailed information about town happenings, local government, information about services including town clerk, building inspector, zoning department, links to community sites, links to the board of education, links to parks & recreation, links to library, information about water/sewer/garbage pick-up, etc. Social media pages are another avenue where a potential buyer can get a flavor for the town. There are third party websites (like greatschools.org) that will rank the local school district and schools within that district. An online search has the capacity to give a buyer a lot of information about a town, and can be completed whether a buyer is moving across town, or across the country.
Once a buyer has settled on a town or neighborhood based on the information that they've discovered online, a buyer should consider taking a walk and experience the neighborhood first hand, ideally on days and times that they hadn't had a formal showing of the house. A neighborhood can be very different on a Tuesday evening showing, compared to a Saturday morning, for example. Traffic flow, neighborhood activity level, and noise can all be factors that may influence a decision to ultimately buy in that neighborhood one way, or another. On that walk, chatting with neighbors will offer a very different perspective than any online search will offer. Neighbors will usually be more knowledgeable and have firsthand experience with the neighborhood and town. Visit the town hall and meet the town clerk. Ask for the field card for the property that is of interest to make sure that the house that the town has on record, match what is being advertised. Chat with the folks in land use to see if there's ever been any building permits pulled, and while there, ask for the plans for the septic system (they may have them if available). Call the Board of Education or Superintendent's office to get more information about the school district and what schools serve which neighborhoods.
Online research can be done to get information about a town that a buyer may be considering purchasing in. Coupling online information with some old-fashioned first-hand experience and conversations with local residents can ensure that the town is good fit for the buyer and their family's needs for years to come.
Melissa Rolland is a licensed Connecticut realtor. She lives in Tolland, along with her husband Todd, a licensed broker. Together they manage the Rolland Realty Group at Keller Williams Realty. You can connect with them at www.RollandRealtyGroup.com.