If you're looking to buy a home, be sure to spend as much time -- if not more -- checking out the neighborhood as you do looking at the home itself. Picking the right neighborhood will determine your family's safety, education and attitude. In short, the neighborhood you live in affects your quality of life.
Location -- This one is first and to some degree affects all the others. How close are you to your jobs, schools, shopping, restaurants, parks, museums, freeways, public transportation and medical facilities?
Crime/Safety -- Check with local law enforcement to review crime statistics. In addition, visit local shops at different times of the day to see what they're like, especially at night. It's amazing how the feel of a place can change once the sun goes down.
Schools -- If you have, or plan to have kids, see how the area schools rank. If they are not that good, are there alternatives, public or private? Schools affect values.
Social Life -- Is the neighborhood close to your family and friends? Keep in mind if you have to drive an hour for a social visit, you won't do it very often. In addition, is there a neighborhood activity center, coffee shop or pub -- a place where locals gather?
Property Values -- Are prices going up, down, or what? Make sure you know.
Open Space -- Are there parks, trails or other open spaces where you can walk, jog, bike, or take the dog for his morning ... exercise?
Traffic -- Drive by schools, shopping and other hot spots during prime time to see if you can live with the pace.
Future Construction -- Check with the home owner association or city agency to see what plans they have for the future. Things change; make sure you know what to expect.
Neighbors -- Go ahead and knock on a few doors. Simply introduce yourself, tell them you're looking to buy in the area, and ask for their input. Do they have positive things to say. Are they friendly?
Of course there are many other considerations, but this covers most of the important ones. While your realtor should be able to answer many of these questions, be sure to check for yourself. After all, you're the one that will be living there. Once you've identified your perfect neighborhood, it's time to move on to the next step and start looking for your dream home.