The Top 4 Questions to Ask When You’re Picking a New Neighborhood

April 20th, 2018

Moving in New York City can be difficult, especially when it comes to choosing the perfect neighborhood. In our new Stonehenge Resident Blog Post Series, we ask our residents to write about a topic that's important to them. Resident Elle Harikleia wants to share some of her tips for how to find the the best neighborhood for you. -----

One of the biggest decisions you’ll make when moving to a new city is your choice of neighborhood. We all like to see a little of ourselves in the place we call home! Neighborhoods all have their own personalities. Whether you’re considering the suburbs or a city life, these questions can help you be sure you’re picking the right neighborhood for you and your family.

1. How do I picture my community? 

Before you consider a new neighborhood, it can be helpful to start with some self reflection. Sometimes fun events in a particular part of town can dazzle, but they might not reflect the normal day to day life, or, they may not meet you and your family’s priorities. 

What is lacking for you in your current community? If you wish you were walking distance to fun bars, restaurants or cultural activities that should be a priority. Is your current commute taking away from time at home or your hobbies? A few hours with yourself or discussing with a loved one or roommate what you’re looking for saves a bunch of time in the long run!

2. What am I willing to trade off?

Any realtor will tell you that there are trade offs in any home selection process. In most instances, you’re generally trading off four things—size, newness, location, and price.  To get that extra guest room, you might need to be on the outskirts of the trendiest neighborhood or be willing to put a little time and money into a remodel. It’s critical to know which of these is most important to you or where you have a little bit of wiggle room.

The more specific and personal these details are to you the more confident you can be in your neighborhood hunting! One person’s “nightlife” might be a string of dive bars while another’s is a thriving theatre scene. Being very specific about the lifestyle elements that are important to you will help guide your neighborhood choices. 

3. What is my budget for total housing expenses? 

This question goes much beyond rent, so it’s important to take a very holistic view of total housing expenses when you’re looking at a new neighborhood. Fees like homeowner’s associations or city taxes can add up so be sure to factor those in while you’re exploring. You may also want to consider any additional commuting expenses or savings if your new neighborhood will affect how far you are from work.

On a basic level, be sure you’ve got a good handle on how rent, incentives, amenities fees in your building, renter’s insurance, and any parking fees add up. While the “30 percent of your income rule” has been a bit debunked, it can still be a good starting point to identify a range of total housing expenses that feel reasonable to you. 

4. How else can I find out about this neighborhood? 

The number of apps, sites, and blogs dedicated to the neighborhood hunt make it easier than ever to navigate your options. Apps like Dwellr and HomeFacts give you various statistics about safety, school choices, and even natural disaster risks! Lastly, the classic site WalkScore gives you great details how walkable an bike friendly your new neighborhood will be! Once you’re settled, apps like NextDoor is a private social network for your neighborhood which can give you scoop on all the goings on in your new place.

Be sure you go beyond the screen (where possible) and explore your neighborhood firsthand as much as possible. Chat up the locals. Bartenders, doormen, and the gals who run your favorite shop in the neighborhood are great sources of information. How long have they been in town? What brought them here? Are their rents skyrocketing or is the neighborhood developing at a steady pace? Getting their take on where they see the neighborhood headed gives you a totally different but equally important view than that of a real estate professional.

Lastly, a Few Tips on the Hunt

It can be tempting to trust a real estate agent or your favorite city blog to be your single source of information on a new neighborhood. But don’t completely outsource this important work! Here’s a few ways to be sure you’re getting different perspectives.

— Check for an excess of foreclosures or large stretches of properties for rent. You’ll get a sense of whether this is because the neighborhood is on its way to greater development or starting to slow, but these indicators help you know if you’re potentially in for a fixer upper, or on the front end of a period of gentrification. (Hello first mover, you might score more affordable rent!)

— Review government information. Research local crime statistics, school information, parks an recreation, and neighborhood associations. It can be pretty surprising to see how crime information varies quickly in dense urban areas.

— Visit the neighborhood at different times. Be sure you’ve seen it at its best and worst! Did you fall in love with this area because you go there for a lively Sunday brunch? Check it out at night, very early in the morning and on different days of the week. Are streets well-lit? Are there a lot of children or people out and about? 

— Rent a Room. If it works for your timing and budget, consider getting an Airbnb or staying with a friend for a few days. Map out how you’d go about routine things like getting groceries and heading to work. Trying out a neighborhood like this is the closest you’ll get to living there so it can be a great last check of the area before you take the plunge!