The Geography of Home: Because you are not just buying a house, you are buying a neighborhood

Seattle is a collection of neighborhoods or urban villages, all of which have distinctive characteristics and none of which necessarily relate to one another. 

Working with a broker that has many years experience in these neighborhoods is essential when relocating to or within Seattle. Having lived, raised a family, worked, remodeled homes and played in these Seattle neighborhoods for 25 years, I have come to know them well. Here are some important aspects to consider when learning about different neighborhoods. You will have your most important criteria and ideally find them all realized.

Safety First

Yours and your loved ones safety should always be top priority!. Knowing which areas in your community are low and high risk can save you a lot of angst and help keep your family relatively safe and secure.

Going to the local police station to ask about the crime rate in the area and visiting neighborhoods on several occasions during different times of the day should give you a fairly accurate site picture of the safety level in that area. Also, bear in mind that in some areas citizens organize their own neighborhood watch programs to increase the safety of those areas. Some areas may rely on gated communities to keep unwanted visitors out.

Pay Attention to Other Homes

When choosing a new place to settle down, you should always pay special attention to the houses and/or lots around the one you are considering to purchase. This neighborhood review can alert you to proposed nearby developments,  any zoning or use variations or possible view obstructions. So your homework with the assistance of your broker and find out all the details.

Neighbors are also a great source of information. Everyone loves to talk about the place they call home and you will also find it a wonderful way to get a feeling of what its like to live there.

Go back and visit the neighborhood during different times of the day, on the weekend as well as during the week.

Public Transportation

In some areas, access to affordable public transportation is critical to keep commute times reasonable and allow quick access to shopping, entertainment, and other key hubs in and around the area being considered. Also, if going green appeals to you, then living near public transportation might be a consideration worth the investment. Given the local traffic congestion, many people are choosing to live close to where they work. Being near the light rail or express bus routes is often the most important factor to many buyers, particularly Millennials.

According to research by APTA, houses and condos that are close to mass transit options will retain their value over several years. That fact alone may be enough to sway buyers into purchasing in a neighborhood that is close to public transportation sources.

Schools and Education

Buyers with children want to live in areas with decent schools. It is that simple. Fortunately, homes close good schools are typically sought after which helps keep home prices stable in those areas. A few of the things you should consider when comparing neighborhood schools are:

  • School Rating – Parents often provide their insights on greatschools.org. What better way to find out about a school than to read what parents with children attending those schools think?
  • Busing – Some areas provide buses to get kids to/from school. If this is important to you, check out the routes, average time spent on the bus, pickup/drop off points, and even the district driver hiring practices.
  • Walk-ability – Can your kids walk to/from school from the home you are thinking about buying? Do they have to cross busy roads? Are there crosswalks, sidewalks, and crossing guards?
  • Teacher-to-Student Ratio – Typically, the less students per class, the more individual attention your children will get. In some areas, parents opt for private schools to ensure these ratios are lower than average.
  • Test Scores – Are the county, state, and national test scores above or below the standard?
  • Special/Gifted Programs – Does the school offer programs your kids may need or desire?
  • Family/Student Aid – For families that need assistance, does the school offer the necessary aid?
  • Bi-Lingual Support – For some families, this is certainly a consideration when looking at schools in particular communities.

Do your homework and consider all the important (to you) features the various schools in your search area have. Once you know which schools you want your kids to attend, the ensuing home search is often fairly quick and easy.

Proximity of Vital Services

Families often consider neighborhoods that either have basic services or are close to vital community services. Living near a police station, fire station, and hospitals/quick care facilities can save your life or the life of a family member in an emergency. In addition to vital resources, some new owners insist on living near other service resources in-case the need arises.

For instance, it is important to have an emergency plumbing service in the vicinity, especially if your new house needs tweaking and, of course, for everyday needs. If a bathroom pipe bursts, you need emergency services to arrive as quickly as possible. The same goes for drain services, trash removal services, heating/air, and other similar providers essential for hygiene-friendly and comfortable living.

Walking and Cycling Areas

For some active consumers, it is all about the neighborhood amenities and community details. Among those important details are bike lanes, nearby parks, dog friendly walking areas. Enjoying the outdoors in a familiar setting, and getting in some exercise, are worthy considerations as buyers and investors start searching for homes. This not only promotes a healthier life-style but also makes those neighborhoods more attractive to new residents.

Aesthetics

Let’s face it, not many buyers want to live in an ugly neighborhood or home. When we take pride in our areas, it shows we care about the community. When the neighborhood is visually pleasing, new buyers can easily get a sense of belonging as well as a projection that the existing homeowners are a tight knit  and/or cohesive group. Besides, when the homes all look well groomed, it can have a positive impact on prices which is great for resale value. Be excited about the homes and areas you are visiting, but also have a critical eye, being sure to pay attention to the neighborhood aesthetics. 

However older and ugly does not mean low values or problems in the neighborhood. Because of high demand, the in-city neighborhoods in Seattle will often show a blend of new homes, old homes and homes under renovation. Look for the signs of investment in the neighborhood, of owners significantly remodeling their homes. That shows the trend; the ugly duckling on the corner will not be that way for long.

Homeowners Associations

Love them or hate them, HOAs can play a big part in whether or not buyers want to live in a particular neighborhood. Some like the thought of homeowners having to keep their yards and shrubbery trimmed, similar fences, mailboxes, and sheds, structured paint and roof styles, lack of extracurricular vehicles/vessels being visible, and a host of other things that many homeowner associations ensure are maintained or not abused.

Others shy away from having that much control and prefer to do what they feel is best for their home while respecting their neighbors right to do the same. Whatever your preference, knowing which neighborhoods enforce their HOAs, which do not, and which ones have none in place will help make your home purchase decision that much simpler.

Secondary Buyer Considerations

Everyone has their own set of priorities, must haves, and key determinants when starting their home search. While many may consider the items below secondary buyer considerations, you may see them as priority items when you begin looking at neighborhoods to live in. To each their own I say.

  1. Culture
  2. Proximity to religious facilities
  3. Availability of on-site amenities
  4. Highway access
  5. Closeness to entertainment and shopping venues
  6. Is it and up-and-coming community
  7. Commute time
  8. Parks and recreation
  9. The neighbors
  10. Demographic composition

As you can see, finding the right neighborhood is a multi-layered and demanding process. You might like three or four features of an area, but disapprove of some others. Probably the best way to make the final choice is by listing pros and cons for the homes and the neighborhoods you are thinking about and then simply calculating the benefits and disadvantages. Whatever you choose, always contribute to the community you live in and do everything you can to keep your home as valuable as it was when you moved into it.