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This Old House - Do-it-Yourself

A Neighborhood Assessment Checklist

Written by Posted On Tuesday, 13 March 2018 15:00

A home is more than a building set upon a plot of land. Homes are situated in neighborhoods that exert a significant influence on living conditions, inside and outside the home. As the saying goes, “It’s all about location, location, location.” A fixer-upper in a great neighborhood has serious upside potential, but a fabulous home in a crime-ridden neighborhood next to a noisy freeway intersection (“commuting convenience!”) is doomed. So before you buy that house, check out the neighborhood thoroughly.

Neighborhood characteristics not only affect home prices and level of convenience, but they can cause mental health issues for residents. A study published in Current Directions in Psychological Science says, "Neighborhoods with poor-quality housing, few resources, and unsafe conditions impose stress, which can lead to depression." Even in upscale neighborhoods, people who can’t afford to live there will feel financial pressures and nutritional problems (think ramen noodles), leading to depression as well.

The neighborhood features you would find most desirable and least desirable are partially a matter of personal opinion and your situation. For instance, a conservative older family probably doesn’t want to live in a college neighborhood, unless both parents happen to be professors at the school and they desire a short, walkable commute.

The Desirables - Here are some neighborhood qualities you may find desirable.

Low Crime Rate - Basic safety factors for you and your family should top your list. You don’t want to be afraid to step outside your front door. Crime is also a major indicator of how well your house will gain or lose value over time. Check statistics online by zip code or call the local police station.

Well-Maintained Homes - Do the neighbors take pride in their homes and yards, or are lots of properties falling apart?

Good Schools, Both Private and Public - Not only for your own kids, but to gauge the family-friendliness of the neighborhood in general. Visit the schools and check out the buildings, since they’re an indication of funding resources.

Short Commute - “Living within a convenient distance to work has a direct impact on employee satisfaction,” says Philip Gibbons, attorney and founder of Phil Gibbons Law.

Stores and Things to Do - Shopping, restaurants, retail and grocery stores are convenient for the necessities, while coffee places and nightlife are attractive for entertainment.

Walkable - Walking down quiet streets with sidewalks will expand your sense of place and provide exercise.

Public Transportation -  Whether you plan on using it or not, public transportation access will tell you how well the city or larger municipality engages with the neighborhood.

Outdoor Activities - Golf, parks, a public swimming pool, tennis courts and nearby wilderness areas with trails give a reason to spend more time outside of the house.

History - You may value the history of an old neighborhood in itself, but history also shows that the neighborhood has staying power.

Medical Services - Nearby doctors offices and hospitals are great for emergency services, but can be of vital importance to older residents with regular medical needs.

Kids in the Neighborhood - If you have kids or you’re planning a family, you’ll want them to have friends living close by.

The Undesirables -  Many items on the undesirable checklist qualify as LULUs: Locally Undesirable (or Unwanted) Land Uses.

The Major LULUs - Hazardous waste disposal sites, prisons, factories and nuclear power plants are things nobody wants to live near. The federal government has designated major cleanup areas as “Superfund” sites, and the EPA provides a website that lets you search for these contaminated areas.

Noise - You probably don’t want to wear earplugs in your home or while relaxing on the patio. Noise can come from nearby industrial operations, traffic (planes, trains, automobiles) or certain businesses like bars. When checking out a neighborhood, stop and listen at different times of the day.

Smells - Along the lines of noise, check for strange smells at different times.

Graffiti and Vandalism - These are signs of local crime and unrest. Also look for literal signs on buildings and in store windows warning against vandalism, since they’re posted for a reason.

Lots of "For Sale" Signs in Front Yards - You don’t want to invest in an area that everyone else is abandoning.


Don’t let that wonderful house blind you to the realities of the neighborhood it’s in. You’re unlikely to put wheels on that house and move it to a more desirable place, so make sure the neighborhood fits your needs. You’re not only buying a home -- you’re also buying into the neighborhood.

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James Stevenson

Hi, My name is James and I've been involved in the property and real estate industry for 10 years now. I hope people will like to read about my thoughts and experiences in the industry and please contact me if you want to discuss my articles further!

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