Ten Essential Resources for Researching & Choosing Your Ideal Neighborhood

Ten Essential Resources for Researching & Choosing Your Ideal Neighborhood

I've moved several times in my life. As a kid, my family had three major moves. As an adult, I've picked up and journeyed to a new place eight times. And that's not counting smaller moves within cities when rental leases were up.

Every time I've done my research on cities, I've discovered new tips for finding a neighborhood that fits me. Here are the most helpful recommendations and tools I've come across.

Let's start with some general advice. You need to get a little introspective because you will be creating your first resources. Know thyself...and what thyself wants in a neighborhood.

  • Make your lists for neighborhood Must Haves, Wants, and Avoids.

If you have a dog, a nearby park may be a Must Have. A gym may be a Want. Loud bars or clubs may be Avoids. Consider the amenities you currently have in your neighborhood or home. What might you miss? Then consider what you might remove from your current neighborhood if you had your druthers.

  • Make another list for city Must Haves, Wants, and Avoids.

Is quick access to an international airport important to you? Theater? Sports? Live music? Museums? Shopping? Independent movie theaters? Public transportation? Gambling? You may not want these attractions in your neighborhood, but close by might be nice. Some you may want to move as far away from as possible. 

Oh, and when I write about making lists, I actually have made the lists. Because I'm OCD. The lists help me focus. These could just as easily be mental lists if that's your style.

Now you need to start doing your research. Begin with broad strokes to get a sense of the entire city.

  • One useful tool is AreaVibes. The search parameter defaults to "Best Places" and then you type in your city name. AreaVibes gives your city a livability score on a scale of 1-100. It also displays grades for Amenities, Cost of Living, Crime, Education, Employment, Housing, and Weather. There are tabs for Neighborhoods, Reviews, and Forum with even more information.

You can also use the site's sliding scales to customize your search. While AreaVibes does have some advertising on it, the website is easy to read with logical colorful graphics. A great starting point! 

  • Another place to begin gathering information on your new city is Wikipedia. Gasp! I used to be a teacher! How can I possibly condone the use of Wikipedia? Because it's full of awesomeness that is cited!

If you focus on the information that does come from reliable sources, then you have a treasure trove! Demographics, neighborhood descriptions, details on the economy, culture, tourism, government, infrastructure, and all of this information usually comes with a long list of cited references and external links. Why mess with the Googles when such great information is culled right there on Wikipedia?

  • Don't forget the human touch! Realtors are incredibly social people who like helping complete strangers find homes. Even if you're not buying a home, look up local realtors and see if they are on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

Personally, I love finding realtors on Pinterest because then I have access to their curated boards. Sure, they may be pinning recipes and decor because those pins generate traffic, but they could also have boards dedicated to neighborhoods, restaurants, nightlife, and things to do in Your City before you die. Since you can choose to follow select boards, you control your home feed.

I've also entered city names into Pinterest searches and clicked on Pinners to find people and organizations in those cities who may have interesting boards about local places. I've discovered libraries, book shops, local artists, universities, various media, and so much more on Pinterest.

At this point, you're ready to start narrowing your search into select neighborhoods.

  • Check out WalkScore. You type in a zip code and the site ranks how walkable that neighborhood is. High walk scores mean that you don't require a car for daily errands. There is a Neighborhood Map feature that allows you to filter destinations based on the amenity type (restaurant, coffee, bars, groceries, parks, schools, shopping, and entertainment).

The last time I used the Neighborhood Map it was a completely free feature. Now you have three choices. You can sign up to use a free, advertising supported, plan on your web browser. The freebie plan does not include information on public transit. The premium plan does include the public transit and transit scores at the cost of $50/month. Lastly, there's the free Walk Score app for iOS and Android.

  • Another fun tool is ZIP Lookup from Esri. After you type in your zip code, a city map populates showing the boundaries of your zip code and the surrounding zips. There are four tabs of information: Tapestry, Income, Age, and Population Density. Each tab has color-coded data so you can see how your zip code compares to bordering zips as well as the county, state and nation.

The Tapestry feature, though, is worth reading for the insights into neighborhood attitudes and choices based on demographics and socioeconomic characteristics. Some labels I've seen in my zip code searches are Exurbanites, Set to Impress, Midlife Constants, Emerald City, and Laptops and Lattes. There are 67 of these segment labels. I've searched several zips where I've lived and it's scary how well the Tapestry description fits the lifestyle choices, shopping habits, and attitudes of people I've known within those neighborhoods.

  • For more neighborhood background, don't forget about Yelp. Sure, some people use Yelp just to complain, but there are also people who make lists of places they love in their city and neighborhood. Sometimes these lists are goofy, but they can also be invaluable. If you find a reviewer who writes with your sensibilities and tastes, then you can check that person's profile for more reviews and lists.

Yelp can also help you find smaller businesses that may have been overlooked in other searches you've done. And reading a few reviews for particular kinds of restaurants or services starts to give you an idea of what the prices are like in different parts of the city. 

  • Finally, you may want to consider safety in your neighborhood search. Nothing beats going to the source. Go to the police or sheriff department's websites and look for their link to their local crime statistics. Usually, they start the search with an address and show an overlay of crimes radiating out from that address. Every time I've done a crime check, it's easy to see what crimes are being committed. I once ruled out an apartment complex because the drug busts were so concentrated within that complex.

The other site I check is the National Sex Offender Public Website coordinated by the Department of Justice. They have a variety of ways for you to search for sex offenders. 

Now you've got your neighborhood choices down to one or two.

  • Just to be sure about your choice, you should spend time in those neighborhoods.
    • Drive around the neighborhood at various times of day. Listen for any noises that may bother you. If you see a neighborhood bulletin board, go check out the news.
    • Go grocery shopping at the store where you think you'll be buying your groceries. You don't have to actually buy groceries, just walk the aisles. People watch. Do you think you'd feel at home here?
    • People watch some more. Go to a park, a coffee shop, or a restaurant with an outdoor patio. Sit and see if you can envision yourself there.
    • While you're people watching, don't miss any opportunities to talk to people. At the very least, you can let the barista or wait person know that you're thinking about moving into the neighborhood. Ask them what they think of the place and people.

I've had mostly good experiences with my moves because I do the research that allows me to find a comfy neighborhood that suits my desire for quiet within a city with desirable attractions. If you're searching for your ideal neighborhood, then I hope this list of resources may help you find your comfy neighborhood.

If you've ever moved, what tools did you use to make finding that perfect neighborhood easier? Do you have any advice to share about neighborhood selection?

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