Chicago-area Realtor Danielle Procopio knows just the advice to give her current clients, a retired Oregon couple moving to be closer to their grandchildren. She asks for their wish list of amenities, which in this case happens to include walkability, parks and wooded areas.
Then she goes to work sending photos of neighborhoods and instructing them to explore Google Maps Street View before their next visit to town.
Her number one suggestion once their plane lands will be get out and see the locales by car and on foot. “It’s the best way to get to know an area,” she said. Danielle will join them and is not shy about knocking on doors. “Most people are open and understanding. I find most people like talking about their area.”
It’s relatively easy to do a preliminary check on critical stats like the job market, home prices and climate with a quick internet search from afar. As a realtor, Danielle is a local expert who can provide insight on the softer side of a successful move, to fully experience an area so that her client’s next spot on the map will be one they love.
Walk the Neighborhood Before You Move
You can tell a lot about an area by how it presents itself. “Note how busy it is. If there are a lot of closed businesses that could indicate financial trouble. How do the homes look, are they well maintained?” says Danielle.
Make a point of visiting at different times of the day, even different times of the year if possible. Activity can vary with the seasons, as does the weather. For example, our Oregon couple may have to get used to Chicago’s severe wind chill factor. Also consider how different noise levels and traffic that can come with different seasons, possibly bringing tourists or other culture shock moments.
Ask Yourself if the Area Has What You Need
It’s important to consider your daily habits and interests and make sure the area will accommodate. If you’re a big shopper, Danielle suggests looking at websites that list stores, districts and malls for the area. “If you want to be near a certain type of store, doing a search for that is a good place to start.”
If you’re a dog owner you might want to check to see if the area is dog friendly. Look to see if people are out with their best friends. “Talk to a local dog walker, groomer or vet to find out where they take their dogs for exercise and recreation then visit those places,” says Danielle said.
If you’re into fitness and a healthy lifestyle, Danielle suggests says those types of facilities usually need to be seen in person. “Check that the local health food store has the items you regularly buy. You may want to try out the local hiking trail, take a run, or get a trial pass to the local gym.” Danielle cautions against going by online ratings alone. “A gym may have the best ratings online but you get there and find it’s too small or you don’t like the machines or amenities they offer.”
Love the nightlife? Grab a drink in a local bar, take in some live music by local bands, go dancing at the nearest club or see a movie at the local theatre. See if the people and the scene fit your taste. City papers usually provide listings of different venues and the crowds they cater to.
Figure Out Your Commute Before You Move
If you’ll be using your car to get around, don’t forget to check your commute to work. “Drive the route you would take during rush hour,” Danielle said.
If you don’t plan to drive, be sure to look into the public transit system. “Check the schedules and walk to the bus stop or train station you’ll be using.” Note what neighborhoods you have to walk through to get there. Are there sidewalks or will you be walking through grass or in the street? Is the stop covered?”
Involve Your Kids in the Search for a New Neighborhood
For parents, the place they choose to live is often dictated by finding the best school districts. But you might also want to know if the community is family-friendly. Danielle suggests, “Take your kids to the local park, and talk to parents and try attending local events such as PTA meetings that could connect you with people who can provide insight.” Also, if you plan on having your child take the bus to school, check that the home you buy will be close enough to the pick-up route.
There are plenty of online tools to help research a neighborhood. Here are a few of Danielle’s favorites:
Walkability - If walking to all your favorite places is important to you, Walkscore.com will tell you how an area is rated for getting around on foot.
Online Reviews – Look at reviews on Yelp and Google for local restaurants and businesses you would use frequently such as dry cleaners and auto shops.
Safety – The website Crimereports.com provides up-to-the-minute neighborhood crime reports and notes sex offenders in the area.
Schools – Find a good school for your kids by reading the ratings on the site Greatschools.org.
News - Subscribe to local newspapers, either print or online. Look for neighborhood blogs and subscribe to daily news feeds. Many cities have neighborhood reviews in their local newspapers and magazines. “These articles eliminate some of the legwork by identifying the pros and cons of living in an area,” says Danielle.
Moving to a new city has its challenges but hopefully with these tips you can find an area you love!