iStock_000009002766Medium-300x199If you are looking to buy a house in the Houston area, one of the first questions you will consider is how to choose the right neighborhood. I just bought my first house recently. (If you’re inclined to say “Congrats!” then, Thank you!) At first, I was looking anywhere in Houston in my price range, but when I realized I had a few options, I got pickier. I couldn’t imagine, for example, living somewhere there wasn’t access to a bike trail for transportation.

It’s not a bad idea to visit a few houses to get an idea of what you like and don’t like, but if you’re like me, you want to have a plan. Below are some tips that we came up with at Big State Home Buyers regarding how to choose the right neighborhood.

Create a list of positive and negative aspects of your current neighborhood

First thing’s first: assess where you currently live. Where do you live now? How much do you like it? Determine what you like and don’t like about your current house. What are the pros and cons of your current house? Are you moving because you hate the neighborhood, because you need a change of pace, or maybe because you need more space?

For example, one of the reasons I moved is because I was renting a house right in the heart of the Houston Heights. If you know anything about Houston, you know that this area has been expensive for a while, but property values EXPLODED this year and caused rent values to increase significantly. Since I was willing to live a little further from town, it was much cheaper for me to buy a house than it was for me to continue to rent. The positive side of the neighborhood I was living in was that is was close to EVERYTHING. I could walk to ten restaurants and my favorite coffee shop was practically across the street. However, I also had to deal with the negative aspects of living in a busy area. Sometimes, I couldn’t access my driveway because there was so much traffic from people going to concerts or events. And I had a hard time relaxing because there was always so much going on.

Point: write a list of things that are NOT working for you, and write down your motivations for moving. This will give you a good place to start.

Create a list of what you need in a neighborhood

The next step after the initial assessment is writing down what you DO need in a neighborhood.

Do you want to live close to downtown? Being closer to a downtown area generally means less space for more money, however it also comes with benefits. For example, if you work downtown, you would most likely want to live closer to town. Downtown areas are also closer to restaurants and shopping. If you like the night scene and frequently enjoy going to clubs and bars, then you might prefer living downtown. Downtown areas are more popular for singles couples with no children.

Would you rather live in a quiet suburb? Living in a suburb provides different opportunities than living in the city. The further from town you go, the cheaper the houses will be for more space. Most people wanting families move to suburbs for the space, privacy and quiet. (It’s hard to get a big backyard downtown). Your commute to work might be longer, but you will likely spend more of your downtime enjoying your house. Even if you don’t want family, a suburb would be a better location for gardening and other outdoor activities that require space.

Do you want a neighborhood with a park? If you’re choosing between suburbs, you need to dig deeper. For example, do you want to live in a community that organizes community activities? Do you need a park that your pets or children can play in? Do you like to exercise outside? If so, you might want to be close to a bike trail, tennis court, basketball court or pool.

What shopping, restaurants, and businesses are important to you? When I was looking for a house, my real estate agent kept impressing the importance of grocery stores to me. She mentioned that a nearby grocery store is a must have for her, which she realized after a Fiesta closed down in her neighborhood. Ironically, I ended up buying a house in a “food desert”. There are very few restaurants near me and NO major grocery chains. However, that wasn’t something I needed. I work close to a grocery store, and there are enough small stores around me that I ca pick up basics if needed. If you have a family, and if you have a stay-at-home job, then having a major grocery chain near you is probably something you need.

How important is your commute to you? As I mentioned earlier, if you work down town you might be more inclined to want to live downtown. How important is your commute to you? Do you need access to a bike trail or public transportation? If you don’t have a car, you’ll need to rely on buses or trains.

How do you spend your free time? I go to a lot of concerts and art shows, but most of the time I relax at home. You should choose a neighborhood or part of town where you can see yourself comfortably spending most of your time.

Who Will Be Living With You

Determining who will be living with you will answer many of the questions above. If you have a family, you will most likely want to live in a suburb. If you are married, then you will have to compromise regarding whose commute is shorter.

Having extended family live together is becoming increasingly popular as housing prices rise. If you plan to have your parents or in-laws live with you now or in the future, what kind of space do you need? Would they be comfortable in a garage apartment? Could you build a small studio in the back for them to live in?

How else might you want to use your space in the future? My partner is an artist, so we bought a house on a big lot so we could build a work studio in the future. I also wanted to live somewhere I could see myself growing food. My tiny bungalow in the Heights was surrounded by former bungalows that had been torn down and rebuild into 2 and 3 story houses, so I had no sun in my backyard! It completely covered in the buildings’ shadows. I don’t mind shade, but it sure does limit what you can grow. Having a backyard with some sun and shade was important to me.

Remember, if you are buying a house you are probably in it for the long haul. Think about where you are now, but also where you want to be.

Choose A Few Neighborhoods To Research

After asking a few of the questions above, start by asking your real estate agent to show you a variety of houses. Explain your budget and generally what you want, but let them know that you are still trying to figure out what your ideal house is. Actually looking at houses will really help you clarify what appeals to you.

Additionally, I stumbled across this handy website while writing this post. It cost $15/month to see everything, but you can get detailed information on neighborhoods without paying a cent (and only missing a few details).