Once you've narrowed down your search, it is essential to check out your top five neighborhoods in person. If you live in another state, make a trip or find a trusted contact to do this research for you. There is so much you can learn about a neighborhood in person that isn't clear from an Internet search or an interview with a real estate agent. To get a real sense of what living in a neighborhood would be like, it's important to visit at different times of day during the week and on a weekend. If you only visit an area on a weekday when children are in school and adults are at work, you won't get a complete understanding of how the neighborhood functions. Multiple visits will give you the entire picture on noise, traffic and how active the residents are.
Also be wary of signs that a neighborhood is in decline, including empty houses or houses in disrepair, too many for sale or for rent signs, vandalism, vicious or loose dogs, and broken down cars. Another warning sign that requires more research is if you notice a funny smell. Even if you only notice it on one of your many visits, it's important to understand where the odor is coming from to determine if it's something you should be concerned about.
On each of your visits, try to talk to at least one person. Ask people what they like most about the areas, as well as what they would change about their neighborhoods. Take note if there are differing opinions from residents on the same street and try to figure out why. If you've noticed any warning signs, this is a great opportunity to find out more about them. The time you spend talking to your potential new neighbors will help you get to know them as well. Do they seem friendly or have unusual quirks? Make sure you can see yourself living next to everyone you interview.
Even though it requires a lot of upfront work, doing your homework gives you a much greater chance of choosing a neighborhood that you will love for years to come. Now all you have to do is find the right home, sign the papers and move in.