Friday, April 23, 2021

What makes a neighborhood "good?"

Neighborhoods are often the most important factor in a decision to buy real estate. But what really makes one neighborhood better than another? There are many things that impact neighborhoods, some are fluid and changeable over time and others are more permanent and fixed. Fixed conditions are topographic, geographical, or otherwise permanent. Fluid conditions can change through redevelopment, zoning, economics and other variables. 

Buyers are often limited by a budget and that means that some neighborhoods may be out of financial reach. But irregardless of ones budget be it below the local median or well above, a good decision is going to be based largely on neighborhood. Fundamentally there are several key factors in determining the suitability of a neighborhood:

  • Location: This is mostly fixed and based on proximity to transportation, shopping, schools, etc.
  • Crime: this is a fluid feature based on how much criminal activity is occurring in a neighborhood, this can ebb and flow with normal neighborhood transitions through the various cycle of real estate as well as local government policy.
  • Uniformity: This is semi-fixed based on the building and zoning type. Going from an eclectic mix to a uniform neighborhood takes years or decades. But having a consistent neighborhood with similar styles and values is generally a positive neighborhood feature.
  • Public spaces: Parks and natural public areas tend to enhance the value of a neighborhood
  • Infrastructure: Quality public infrastructure and improvements tends to increase the value of a neighborhood.
  • Ownership: The percentage of rental units to owner occupied units affects value in neighborhoods. Generally more owners increases value, unless the rental units are extremely well managed. An HOA controlled neighborhood tends to keep rentals well managed.
  • Relative proximity value: Neighborhoods with lower priced homes than those immediately surrounding it, tend to have the values pushed slightly upward on the 'coat tails' of the nearby more expensive properties. Likewise expensive homes surround by more modest homes tend to be dragged down a bit. This is a fixed condition.
  • Noise: This is typically fixed and is of particular importance in suburban and rural neighborhoods. The expectation in urban areas like Downtown, is that noise levels will be high so it is a little less of an issue in high density areas.
  • Traffic: This is semi-fluid. It is tied to infrastructure and location. It can be improved with infrastructure but can get worse with growth of population or additional development that over extends the existing infrastructure.
  • Prestige: Some people want to live in a neighborhood that is prestigious. Usually prestige comes at a very high price. Sometimes however middle-income neighborhoods are also prestigious in that they just happen to be really nice areas of modest homes. That ties into location nd infrastructure. Generally a prestigious neighborhood leads to overpriced homes and are not necessarily better places to live than other similar neighborhoods. Use caution when getting caught up in prestige, it can be a good thing, but not always the best thing.
  • Natural Disasters: Some areas are prone to flooding, fires, landslides, etc. Clark County Washington doesn't have a lot of issues with proximity base natural disasters. But buyers should consider the possible dangers of certain locations. Things like earthquakes and tornadoes are going to strike random areas and that is too unpredictable to worry about. Weather and seismic issues are also more of a construction issue, how well made is the house rather than neighborhood location.
The bottom line is simply that buyers should but the most house they can afford in the best neighborhood they can find in their price range. Commute distance and proximity to the things buyers like to do as well as have to do are strong motivators and that can trump the basic rules of neighborhood selection as well.

The market is tough on buyers now regardless of price range as inventory levels are at historic LOWS. Buyers have to be careful not to be too picky. Fluid conditions that are undesirable may be trending in a positive direction, fixed conditions are unlikely to ever change. Buyers should keep that in mind.

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