Find Your Dream Neighborhood Online
The first place to kick off your search is…in your living room. Surfing on the web breaks down a lot of walls—and miles—between you and your potential new home. But you need the right tools to help you find the right neighborhoods. Here's how to start:
Map It Out
First, you'll need to pinpoint your target dream market and then look at the adjacent up-and-coming neighborhoods. These spots are where you're more likely to score some deals. “As we grow as a population, people grow adjacent to those affluent neighborhoods. Towns next to those nice neighborhoods will become identical over time," says Marty Frame, general manger of CyberHomes.com , a site where you input a ZIP code to find info about that town as well as the surrounding neighborhoods.
Sure, it's a great site to find homes, but you can also scope out the area through their “Moving" section under “Explore My New Community." There, you can check out mortgage rates, home values, and market conditions specific to your potential nabes. Move.com is affiliated with Realtor.com too, which puts potential new homes—and their prices—right on your browser.
Test the Town Website
Once you narrow down your choices, check out what the town has to say for itself online. Look for a calendar of events, dining and shopping guides, and, if the town has a chamber of commerce, ask them to mail you some information about the area.
Hit the Online Forum
You can find this on the town website or on a local newspaper's website. It'll tell you what people really think as opposed to town-approved content. Also check out Walkscore.com , which rates towns on a scale of one to 100 and points you to the major grocery stores, restaurants, and parks around town.
Read the Report Card
According to the National Association of Realtors, 35 percent of home buyers say that schools influence their purchase decisions, and for good reason: Quality schools equal higher real estate value, so check out Greatschools.net to get a report card on local schools. Even if you're not planning to have kids, the performance of your new nabe's school will affect resale value.
Tune Into News Radio Online
You can't always go by mileage when you figure out your commute, so get the dirt on traffic by tuning in online to the local news radio station—you know, the one that does traffic every 10 minutes. It'll give you a good idea of how bad it really is and what your real-time commute would most likely be.