Check out the school district. The Department of Education in your town can probably provide information on test scores, class size, percentage of students who attend college, and special enrichment programs. If you have school-age children, also consider paying a visit to schools in the neighborhoods you’re considering. Even if you don’t have children, a house in a good school district will be easier to sell in the future.
See if you’ll make money. Ask a local Realtor or call the local Realtor association to get information about price appreciation trends in the neighborhood. Although past performance is no guarantee of future results, this information may give you a sense of how good an investment your home will be. A Realtor or the government planning agency also may be able to tell you about planned developments or other changes in the neighborhood—like a new school or highway—that might affect property values.
See for yourself. Once you’ve narrowed your focus down to two or three neighborhoods, go there and walk around. Are the homes tidy and well-maintained? Are the streets quiet? Pick a warm day if you can and chat with people working or playing outside. Are they friendly? Are there children to play with your family? After you’ve checked out a property you like during the day, be sure to return for at least one more look late in the evening, preferably on a Friday or Saturday night—prime time for criminal activity. Neighborhoods that look like Mayberry R.F.D. during the day can become Gunfight at the O.K Corral at night.
A great one-stop online resource for on everything from population demographics to weather patterns to crime statistics (including registered sex offenders) for cities and towns all across the country is City-Data.com. All you have to do is choose a state and type in the name of the municipality you’re interested in to get statistics, photos, maps and a literal treasure trove of other data.
LaToya M. Smith is a staff writer at Black Enterprise.