Thanks to the Internet, you can learn all kinds of information about an area before you ever set foot there. First, search for the exact type of neighborhood you're looking for. Next narrow the results using your list of amenities that are important to your lifestyle. If you're having trouble finding too few (or too many) areas to visit, you might want to talk to a real estate agent or ask friends and coworkers for neighborhoods they recommend. People are usually happy to tell you what they love about their neighborhood, but make sure you ask them to consider what they might change if they could. After identifying the areas of town you're interested in, put each one in a spreadsheet to make comparisons easy.
Continue researching each area, and compare them in an "apples to apples" manner. Even if you don't have children, the quality of schools in an area is an important feature, especially if you're buying a home. Crime rate is always important. You'll want to research to find out if there are homeowner's associations or any other neighborhood rules to follow. Some of these may be a deal breakers. For example, some home developments do not allow motorcycles inside their gates. If you're a bike fanatic, this wouldn't be the neighborhood for you. Money is another thing to consider. Is the neighborhood in your price range? Don't just focus on the rent or mortgage payment; there are additional costs to consider as well. Are there any public service or recycling fees? How do the utility prices in the area compare to what you're paying now? If you're buying, add up the real estate taxes and any homeowner's association fees. Finally, consider the neighborhood's location within your city. Is it convenient to your job, and close to amenities and necessities that are important to you, such as grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants, parks and museums?
While all of these criteria are important, you should rate them on a scale to determine how important each is to you. Remember, you'll probably have to compromise to ensure you find the right neighborhood for your lifestyle. We'll discuss how to narrow down your search even further on the next page.