By Robert Irwin
Many home buyers who've previously purchased only through agents feel lost when it comes time to assess a neighborhood on their own. In the past the agent usually led them to neighborhoods which were in their price range and which the agent might describe as "solid investments." What their agent probably meant was that they were good places to live, to raise kids, and to anticipate strong price appreciation.
But now they have come across a home on their own that a seller is offering "by owner." If you are this buyer, you're probably tempted because you like the price, or love the home, or feel good about the surroundings, or all three. But, you're hesitant to make an offer because you don't have someone to look over your shoulder and say, "It's a good neighborhood." How do you judge on your own? How do you determine whether or not it's a good place to move into?WHAT MAKES UP A STRONG NEIGHBORHOOD
Here are some elements that characterize a strong neighborhood:
A healthy record of price appreciation. Good neighborhoods will show a sales history of regular increases in value. You may even be able to track the very home you're considering through one of the online services and see what it sold for in years past. If at each resale the price was higher, it's a good indicator that this house might continue to appreciate.
Good schools. Most home buyers have children and they are almost always interested in the quality of neighborhood schools. Go down to the local school district, find out what elementary, junior and high school this home feeds into, and ask about their scholastic scores. These tests are done regularly and should be readily available. The higher the schools score, generally speaking, the better they usually are... and the more desirable the neighborhood.
Low Crime. No neighborhood is without any crime. But low crime neighborhoods are usually more desired. Check with the local police department's public affairs office. They should have crime statistics not only by neighborhood, but by block!
Pride of ownership. Is all the landscaping in surrounding homes in good shape? What about the driveways? Is there an active "Neighborhood Watch" program in place?
Home Owner's Association. Many buyers shy away from these because of the strict rules they impose. Yet, they are the guardians of a neighborhood's character. A good HOA is usually good for all the owners.
Wide streets, parks, greenbelts and so on. These all contribute to making the area a great place to live.
No detracting influence. This is a biggee. You don't want to live next to a toxic dumpsite or an industrial plant. You want your home in a consistently good residential area.
Much of the above information should be available through links if the "by owner" seller has listed the property online. You can do it yourself. But, if you're still unsure, do it the old fashioned way, ask an agent. You aren't committed to buying through the agent just for asking advice. But be sure your agent is local. You want a professional who knows the neighborhood like the back of his hand, who may actually live there himself. It's important to realize that all real estate is handled on a house-by-house basis in a small geographic area. Good agents will know the area so well, they can tell you off the top of their head which neighborhoods have those amenities that you are looking for.
Robert Irwin is the most prolific real estate writer in America having produced over 100 published books in the field. His TIPS & TRAPS McGraw-Hill series has sold well over a million copies and his FOR SALE BY OWNER KIT and FIND IT, BUY IT, FIX IT and other books have been strong sellers for Dearborn. In addition Irwin writes a regular real estate column for The Wall Street Journal online and is introducing a new weekly column forOwners.com.
Irwin has sold his own property "by owner" and during over 30 years in the business has been a broker and consultant to lenders, agents, buyers and sellers.