Secrets of Buying in the Best Neighborhoods

If you’ve ever considered buying a home, you’ve likely heard the advice “location, location, location.” Most people will advise you to find a home that has:

  1. A potential for lasting value, which is often based on local school ratings, crime data, and neighborhood upkeep
  2. A short commute to work because happier people live close to work
  3. A low fee HOA… or no HOA if you hate paying fees and want more freedom with your property
  4. Good walkability (maintained sidewalks, bike paths, hiking trails; close to places you frequent)
  5. Good neighbors. This is the most important, but hardest, factor to find even when you’re standing there in person.

The first four items can be worked through with a decent internet search and depend on your stage of life and lifestyle. A quick search on will get you pretty far in finding the right neighborhood for you.

However, the fifth item lingers on: How do we actually find good neighbors? How can you tell if a neighborhood is filled with the kind of people you want to be neighbors with? Here, we’ll cover some of the ways you can feel confident you’ve landed in a good neighborhood (even if you’ve never heard of it before!)

But first, isn’t it my realtor’s job to help me find the right neighborhood?

Nope! Don’t expect a realtor to help you find a neighborhood, though many first-time homebuyers see realtors as neighborhood matchmakers. It may be a surprise, but realtors are limited in what they can say about crime stats, school comparison data, and other information you may research to help you find the right neighborhood because of anti-discrimination laws. It is illegal for your realtor to steer you towards one neighborhood or another. They are there to help you find and buy a house, not a neighborhood.

Good neighbors are good for your health

Studies show that having social cohesion in your neighborhood can improve your health in the long term. Neighborhood cohesiveness can even buffer children’s peer victimization. On the flip side, low neighborhood cohesiveness, represented by the presence of trash and vandalism, has been shown to increase cardiovascular risk over just a four-year period.

The key to a good neighborhood is a sense of community

From recent survey, 43% of respondents wanted to move to have a better sense of community. Remember that every house comes with neighbors you can’t change. People are spending more leisure and work time at home according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, and this means that even as the pandemic slows down, people are still running into their neighbors more often. So who you live near can make or break your sense of belonging, your happiness, and your health.

I know what you’re thinking: In a digital age, no one talks to their neighbors. We text them or send out group messages through NextDoor. No way we “see” our community any more! But the real world persists. A recent study by Pew Research suggests that even as the ubiquity of social media grows, Americans are twice as likely to converse with their neighbors in person than by phone, email, or text.

I know the next thing you’re thinking: In the city, no one knows their neighbors, you have to move to the country for that. However, even though rural residents are more likely to know their neighbors, they are just as likely to interact with neighbors as urban residents. So that dream of moving to the country so you can know your neighbors may not lead to actual relationship-building. Perhaps it has more to do with us as people than it does the setting.

How can I tell if I’m buying into the right neighborhood?

  • If you are looking for increased safety that comes with knowing your neighbors, keep your eyes out for dog walkers. Although it’s not well known, Dog Water Watch is a crime awareness program that enables dog walkers who are out in all kinds of weather and at all times of the year to be the extra “eyes and ears” for law enforcement. It’s a thing! …and when you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. For example, The Woodlands in Texas has incorporated this service into their neighborhood watch program.
  • Check for people with trash bags that are either picking up trash or pulling weeds in common areas not owned by anyone but the community. This would be things like medians in the road, or buffer areas behind someone’s wall that backs up to the road. When the community cares enough to get out on Saturday morning and clean up these areas, it shows a strong investment in the neighborhood and community.
  • Pack a picnic, go to the nearest park and check for the following:
    • Are the people at the park talking to each other? Do they at least wave a friendly hello?
    • Is there a lonely glove or kids cup on the picnic bench, placed there by a neighbor who wanted its sad owner to find it?
    • Is it a park you would give at least 4 out of 5 stars? Proximity to a nice park keeps home values rising, so parks not only help build communities, but also help ensure the long-term value of nearby home values.
    • Take a moment to assess how you actually feel. Can you see yourself spending an afternoon in this park?
    • Is there adequate lighting at the park? Street lights can increase safety and deter shady activity.
  • Visit the neighborhood on a sunny Saturday morning. This is the time when members of the community most frequently schedule neighborhood cleanups, walk their dogs, go for happy walks, and have birthday parties at the park. In short, this is when the real spirit of the community is on full display, so don’t commit to a new home until you’ve spent time in the neighborhood on a warm Saturday morning.
  • If you found the perfect house, don’t hesitate to talk to a neighbor passing by about what their favorite feature of the neighborhood is.

Run-away points

If you didn’t get a strong feel for the neighborhood, you can take the opposite route and just make sure you don’t have some of the common negative features in a neighborhood. Here are the things to avoid:

  • Unusual vehicles like boats, RVs, repurposed school buses, or repurposed ambulances (yes, that is also a thing). [Side note: if you think we are missing any categories here, please let us know in the comments] Unusual transportation can become unsightly and can bring down the look and feel of the neighborhood.
  • While you’re at the park, look for some negative features:
    • Is there dog poop littering the edges of the sidewalks? Hello inconsiderate neighbors.
    • Trash that didn’t fit into the bin – did a large party come through or are the bins not emptied often enough? Poor maintenance can really bring a neighborhood down.
    • Are there random shoes either on the ground or hung up on the telephone pole? These can be tacit signals for drug dealers to communicate with each other under the radar.

What if I can’t find the neighbors I want?

If you build it, they will come! It’s possible to build the community you want if you can’t find it. Here are some ideas to help:

  • Create a Neighborhood Watch (get the benefit of safety in addition to knowing your neighbors)
  • Create a WhatsApp group with your neighbors for chatting about neighborhood happenings
  • Join, and get your neighbors to join, your local Dog Walker Watch (whether or not you have a dog; it’s great info)
  • Organize a neighborhood cleanup on a stretch where there is a lot of trash debris
  • Organize a landscaping cleanup venture in a neighbor’s yard that needs some help (with their permission of course)
  • Bake for a front-yard dessert stand where your neighbors can quickly stop by, grab a bite to eat, and say hello as they pass through. It’s a casual, non-committal way to start conversations, and everyone likes dessert.

Did this help? Let us know what you think in the comment section below. Need more help? Visit to search for the best neighborhood for you.

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