Moving is more than finding your future house—you also want to choose the right neighborhood. After all, where you live is also your home, and every neighborhood is different.
But making such a big, long-lasting decision can be difficult.
You could be new to an area or have lived there your whole life and be unsure which region suits you best. Maybe you love one neighborhood that’s grown beyond your budget. Perhaps you love the vibrance of another but don’t know if it’s safe to raise a family there.
Finding the perfect area takes some research, but the effort is well worth the joy and comfort of living in a place you absolutely love.
If you’re wondering how to choose a neighborhood, this guide will help you structure your neighborhood research and give you a list of factors to consider when deciding where to live.
In your hunt, you will use two types of research: quantitative and qualitative.
Quantitative research includes data and statistics (factors like school quality and crime rates). Qualitative research is experience-based. You can learn a lot from online data, but the best way to get a feel for an area is to visit.
Start With Your Budget (And Stick to It)
Buying a home is an investment, but you want a house that works within your budget. This means accounting for the mortgage payment and home insurance premium you can afford. House prices vary between neighborhoods, so your budget is important to consider even at this stage.
A broker or mortgage professional can help you determine your budget range based on your income and lifestyle. If you’re on your own, a Living Wage Calculator can help you compare your salary with the cost of living in an area. Are you moving to a new city or state? You can directly compare the cost of living in your current location with where you want to move with a Cost of Living Comparison Calculator.
Once you set your budget, stand by it with the dedication of a protagonist in a cheesy romance novel.
The housing market and number of homes for sale impact how hard it is to find the perfect house, but it will take a lot of touring and patience no matter what. Instead of jumping the gun on something out of your price range, be prepared to wait it out.
A bidding war could take a home out of reach, but there will always be another waiting!
List the Qualities That Matter to You
Ask yourself what qualities your ideal neighborhood has and make a list. Knowing what kind of neighborhood you want before you start looking will help you evaluate and compare information as you go.
We cover the most vital and common qualities below, but there might be others that matter to you. Examples of neighborhood characteristics to consider include:
- Quiet streets vs. an active area
- Frequency of trees and parks
- Tight-knit community vs. anonymity
- Proximity to shopping and restaurants
- Older vs. newer neighborhoods
Your list of ideal characteristics may be long, but it will get easier to keep them in mind as you assess each neighborhood.
Pro Tip: Once you’ve made your list, organize it in order of priority. Separating your must-haves and nice-to-haves will help you know where you are willing to compromise.
Make Your List of Neighborhoods to Consider
Next up, list all the neighborhoods that are open to you. Include those within the city you want to live in or any within driving distance from your job. Unless you have lived in the area for a while, try to keep an open mind and avoid cutting off any possibilities right away.
With your list handy, you’re ready to go on test drives and do online research to learn more about each of your options. Start an Excel Sheet or Google Doc or grab a pen and paper for taking notes.
NeighborhoodScout is a great place to start to get a sense of each neighborhood. For free, you can get an overview, including fun facts about the area and the types of people who live there. You might even find a neighborhood on their map to add to your list.
If you’re willing to pay a fee, you can get a full report with information on schools, crime, and more.
Choosing Where to Live: 12 Factors to Consider
1. Stage of Life
The stage of life you’re in may or may not play a role in where you want to live. What do we mean by this?
Retirees might not enjoy living in a college town as much as a college kid would. And you may not want to raise your kids in a retirement community. (But to each their own!) When populations heavily skew one way, local activities sometimes reflect it. It’s why retiree communities and college towns exist.
You can learn about a neighborhood’s population by doing neighborhood research online or by exploring the area in person.
2. Average Cost of Each Neighborhood
The average cost of houses in a neighborhood can tell you a lot about the area, including whether it’s within budget and in an up-and-coming area.
Start by looking at the past and current pricing trends. You’ll see which neighborhoods have averages within your budget. If the cost has steadily risen over the past few years, it’s a sign of growth and that your home could be worth more in the future.
To assess price in a neighborhood thoroughly, consider these factors:
- Average sale price
- If houses are selling for over or under the asking price
- Appreciation: How much houses have increased in value
- Absorption rate: Whether buyers or sellers have power based on supply and demand
- Property taxes: Higher taxes place you in a nicer neighborhood but are more expensive
What If I’m Priced Out of My Dream Neighborhood?
Being priced out means you can’t afford to buy a house in a particular neighborhood because of increased housing costs. If you’re priced out of your dream neighborhood, it’s not the end. Your best option is to follow the path of growth.
Cities grow outwards. When an area gets more expensive, people spread outwards, and the area expands.
Following the path of growth means moving as close as you can to the desirable neighborhood while staying within budget. By moving into the surrounding area, the parts you love will likely expand into your vicinity over time. Bonus: this can also increase the value of your home with time.
3. Crime Statistics and Safety
Another one of the top factors in deciding where to live is neighborhood safety. The safer an area is, the less likely you will be robbed or involved in a crime.
Start by looking up crime statistics by neighborhood, and assess the amount of crime and the types of crimes committed. There are several crime maps and online tools you can use that provide this information. The local city government website may also have its own database available.
That said, statistics aren’t the be-all and end-all. Though helpful, numbers don’t always tell the whole story. And one street in a neighborhood can be more or less safe than another.
Consider asking locals and business owners about their experience while you’re out exploring the town, or ask about it on social media. Facebook has many city-based groups where you can pose a question about safety. You can also contact the local police department for more information.
4. School Options for Children
If you have kids, you probably listed quality schools as a neighborhood priority.
To research local schools, start by identifying which schools are zoned for the neighborhoods you’re contemplating. Then look up their average class sizes, graduation rates, and performance scores online. You can find a lot of this information at GreatSchools.org.
You can also check out the various programs, extracurricular activities, and sports each school offers.
5. Condition of the Neighborhood
When you go for a test drive, take notes on the condition of the neighborhood. Are houses and front yards well-kept? What about streets and sidewalks?
You’ll want to avoid neighborhoods that look like they are going downhill. Signs of this can include numerous abandoned buildings and for-sale signs.
6. Topography: The Lay of the Land
The physical surface of the land in a neighborhood is also worth thinking about, and we’re not talking about the beach.
Due to the lay of the land, some locations are more prone to specific hazardous conditions, like earthquakes, tornadoes, and flooding.
In Florida, for example, some neighborhoods are more prone to flooding than others. Floods can cause water damage to your home, so it’s important to consider flood zones when choosing a neighborhood in Florida.
7. New vs. Historic Neighborhoods
Age partially impacts the architecture, history, and feel of a neighborhood. Some historic areas have a lot of character and are close to activities, but they can have high crime rates, and the homes may require more repair work.
8. Future Developments in the Works
A growing city and economy mean that the city may have development plans for your neighborhood of choice. New amenities, like a shopping mall or park, will increase the value of your home. On the other hand, a new school could result in a school rezoning for families with children.
For these reasons, it’s worth looking into any plans the city may have. One neighborhood could experience explosive growth in a few years, and while some people love being close to the activity, others prefer to be far from the hustle and bustle.
You can contact your local government to ask about development plans, or they may be available on the city’s website.
9. Noise Level and Closeness to Neighbors
Are you the kind of person who’s up all night and doesn’t mind hearing the local bars from your bedroom window? Or are you the kind of person who prefers a few acres of land between you and your nearest neighbor?
These preferences are good to know before choosing where to live. Different types of neighborhoods offer different experiences in terms of noise levels and spacing between neighbors.
In terms of noise disturbance, proximity to a highway, airport, or railroad tracks can also pose a real issue.
If you’re unsure whether the sounds of nightlife or an airport will bother you, consider your and any family members’ sleep schedule.
10. Transportation and Commute Time>
How you plan to get around and how long it takes to get to places is a high-priority factor for many people when deciding where to live. How long you’re willing to spend traveling to and from work and the grocery store is a personal preference you’ll want to consider.
Drivers should evaluate traffic patterns in a given area. If you bike or walk to places often, you’ll want to assess proximity and make sure there are plenty of bike lanes and sidewalks. You can check the walkability of a location with Walk Score. If you rely on public transportation, check that there are buses, trains, or rail options available that run frequently.
11. Food and Entertainment
If having a lot of options for things to do is important to you, you want to make sure that your perfect neighborhood has that.
If you like eating out, are there options you like in the area? Are you okay with restaurant chains, or do you prefer mom-and-pop shops and local businesses?
Evaluate whether the neighborhood has or is close to shopping options, malls, theaters, museums, libraries, and any other activities you’re interested in.
You’ll also want to account for your hobbies and daily routines. If you take yoga classes or like rock climbing, ensure that options are available to you. Do you need a nearby coffee shop for your daily coffee or a local gym for lifting weights? Does the nightlife meet your requirements?
12. Outdoor Activities and Nature
If you’re a big fan of nature, take note of nature activities available near the neighborhood as well. Consider trails, beaches, lakes, and springs.
There are also outdoor activities that don’t require a scenic view, like playing tennis or bicycling. If you enjoy a particular outdoor activity, make sure you will be able to partake in it fairly easily.
If you have kids, you might also look into the number and quality of parks each neighborhood offers.
Test Your Top Neighborhoods
Once you narrow down your options, put them to the test.
If you plan to stay long-term, it’s worth it to check out the neighborhood more thoroughly in person before moving. A test drive through the area provides valuable neighborhood information, but a day- or weekend-long visit gives you a chance to:
- Test the public transportation.
- Try driving during rush hour. (If you can’t visit in person, use Google Maps for traffic estimates.)
- Check out local coffee shops, bars, and restaurants.
- Talk to some locals to get the feel of the place and people. (If you don’t want to talk to a stranger, ask your server about the area.)
- Take a walk during the day and at night. (Does it feel safe? Are the streets well-lit?)
The more fully you experience the area, the more confident you can feel about your decision.
Choose Your Perfect Neighborhood
At this point, you’ve done enough neighborhood research and are well-equipped to choose the perfect neighborhood for you and your family. All that’s left is to find your dream home.
If a few locations have entirely won your heart, you’re in luck. You can broaden your opportunities by looking at houses in all of them.