Choosing a neighborhood is a huge decision. Whether you're renting or buying, you sign a contractual agreement to stay there, even if later you decide you don't like the area. If you're renting, you could be lucky enough to get a six-month lease, but most are for a year or two. That's a long time to come home everyday to a neighbor's barking dog that drives you crazy or a funny odor from the lake down the street. If you're buying, you're potentially looking at five years until it makes financial sense for you to move away from those odd neighbors who talk too much. So what's the one thing you should do before choosing a neighborhood to ensure it's right? You have to do your homework, that's what. There aren't any perfect neighborhoods out there, but if you do your homework first, you can find one that's perfect for you.
Among the many criteria to consider are crime rate, school zone and local amenities. However, the most important thing is to find the right neighborhood culture to fit your lifestyle, so the first part of your homework is to make a list of what's important to you. Do you have kids? Are you trying to cut down your commute? Will this be the move that finally allows you to be in the trendy section of downtown or near the beach or golf course? Determine what is most important to you -- the one thing that will make or break your happiness with the neighborhood. If that one thing doesn't immediately pop into your head, consider if you want an old or new area. Some neighborhoods are urban redevelopments, where old buildings have been given new life. Consider certain amenities you can't live without. If you have a medical condition, your one priority might be close proximity to your doctor or a hospital. If you're a health nut, you might want to be close to an organic foods store or bike trails.
But don't just think about the things you want -- think about the things you don't want. If you work from home, you might want a neighborhood without a lot of traffic or other noises, or one with a great coffee shop within walking distance where you can work with other telecommuters. If you're an older, private couple, your one consideration might be to live in an area where there aren't a lot of college kids hanging out. Once you figure out what you want in a neighborhood, it's time to do some research. Find out what you should be looking for next.