You found the perfect house and it's priced right. You work most of the day and enjoy your own company. You don't really care about the neighborhood. You'll mind your own business and your neighbors will tend to theirs. This mode of thinking may be right to some extent, but there are neighborhood red flags that may indicate that your prospective home is in an area with economic difficulties, falling home values and a high crime rate. You want to make sure that you will feel secure in your neighborhood, that you will have access to the basic amenities that you need and that you will be able to sell your house if you decide to move.
Before buying a house, drive around the neighborhood at different times of the day. Notice the people walking around the streets. Are there teenagers loitering on the corners after dark? Do they play loud music? Decide if they will disturb your sleep or peace of mind when you're in your house during the evenings. An obvious police presence should alert you to potential criminal activity in the neighborhood. Note any homeless people. Take a look at crime rates available on various websites. Will you feel comfortable walking your dog in this neighborhood after dark?
Local businesses and storefronts
During your drives around the neighborhood, scout out the local businesses and storefronts. What types of stores are there? Small mom and pop stores and a rustic-looking downtown shopping district may indicate a warm, community-minded neighborhood. Large shopping malls with major chain stores and fast food restaurants could indicate a suburban working class area. Count how many boarded-up storefronts you find. Consider taking a look at school ratings from various real estate websites. A large percentage of closed businesses could indicate that the neighborhood is in the midst of an economic downturn.
Neighborhood maintenance and homes for sale
All homebuyers would like the value of their home to rise after its purchase. Try to get a feel for the economic direction of the neighborhood. Well-maintained homes with nicely kept landscaping, fresh paint and modern cars in the driveway signify economic well-being. Untidy homes with junk littering their lawns indicate a lower quality of life. Look out for "home for sale" signs. A glut of houses for sale might indicate that you will have a difficult time selling your house when you need to relocate. Also check the master plan for pending construction plans.
It's impossible to ignore the ever-present real estate mantra of "location, location, location." No matter how nice a house looks and how beautifully it suits your needs, it cannot compensate for a bad neighborhood. Inspect the neighborhood carefully to make sure that you buy a house in a neighborhood where you will feel happy and safe.