Friday, March 13, 2009

What Do You Think of the Neighborhood?

Lately a lot of buyer clients have asked me this question – “Hey Heather, what do you think of this neighborhood?”

The answer is “doesn’t matter what I think.”

I try to paint it a little less flippant than that, but the truth is my opinion doesn’t matter. It’s not my money and I won’t be living there, so what I think doesn’t count.

Only the buyer’s opinion counts. But I understand that this is a tough subject for out of town buyers, which is a lot of my client base lately. They’re looking for the inside scoop to make sure they’re making a good decision, regardless of whether the decision is “let’s offer on this one” or “let’s keep looking.”

To be honest, I never really know if my buyer clients are asking “what’s the crime rate like?”, “are the neighbors similar to me?”, or “will this property drop in value in the future?”.

An honest answer to the first two questions above is likely to get me sued under US Fair Housing law. An honest answer to the third question above requires that I whip out my crystal ball and accurately predict the future. (If you believe I have an accurate crystal ball, I’ve got some oceanfront property in Yuma to sell you.)

Regardless of how much my buyers might want my opinion, I’m not going to give it. There are better ways to make the decision that needs to be made. Here’s a short list:

  • Drive around the area at different times of the day and different days of the week

  • Knock on some of the neighbors’ doors and introduce yourself as a potential neighbor, then ask a few questions

  • Look at the types of cars parked around the neighborhood – check for both make/model and state of repair or disrepair and recognize that everyone’s standard for “OK” in this category is different

  • Check out the general level of upkeep for most houses in the neighborhood, again remembering that only your opinion of "OK" counts

  • Check out the area online, looking for demographics and crime stats

  • Talk to friends and/or family who live in the metro Phoenix area

  • Talk to folks you meet on your trip here: hotel & restaurant folks, fellow diners, people at the Mini Marts.

Take all the opinions you receive with a grain of salt and trust your own gut. Every town has it’s urban legends about which areas are “nice” and which are “not” and sometimes people are passing on those opinions disguised as truth.

For example, my local high school is actually ranked quite high in student test performance results year after year, but has a historical reputation (from 30 years ago) of being sub-par. Neighbors who’ve lived here for 30+ years might tell you “don’t send your kids THERE” but if you take time to look up the school’s performance, you’d find a high quality education awaiting Sally and Jimmy.

Most of all realize that it will take you some time to get a feeling for what’s a good value and what’s a good neighborhood when you’re searching for real estate in an unfamiliar town. Give yourself that time, whether it’s a few days or even a few months and several trips.

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