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Sizing up the neighborhood where you want to buy

When searching for a new home, the house

When searching for a new home, the house is just one piece of the puzzle. Photo Credit: iStock

Choosing the right neighborhood to suit your personal needs can be just as important as selecting the right house.

Factors to examine include the amount of time you will need to commute to your job, the types of programs available in the local schools and how they would suit your children's needs and talents, any environmental or health issues in the area, and the variety of shopping and entertainment options nearby - just to name a few.

Naturally, what is paramount to some buyers will be of little concern to others. But you need to examine many aspects of a neighborhood before moving into a home, since you don't want any surprises once you are all settled in and find yourself stuck in a1 particular area that isn't right for you.

"Drive around an area and really check it out to see if it is right for you, then ask a lot of questions and do your due diligence," suggests Commack real estate attorney Lita Smith-Mines. "You don't want to find out that the house behind you is in awful condition or that the neighborhood has bad flooding problems after you have moved in."

>> Selling tips: Advice from real estate experts to help you sell your home
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Here are some neighborhood-related topics to examine, as well as how to go about getting the information you will need before buying a home:

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SCHOOLS

Meet with the principal of the school your children might be attending to find out what type of enrichment programs, sports, arts and other activities are offered. Touring the school is a good idea so you can get a look and a feel for the place, says Dee Dee Brix, licensed associate broker in the Glen Head-Old Brookville office of Daniel Gale Sotheby's International Realty. Also, check with the state Department of Education to find out its rankings.

If your child has special needs, you will want to know what your options are for services that are required, says Frank Dell'Accio, president of Century 21 AA Realty in Lindenhurst. Also, if you are a working parent and need an after-school program, ask what local options are available and visit those facilities, says Joyce Coletti, licensed sales agent with Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate in Long Beach.

Ask if your child would be bused to school. This could become an issue if you need to leave early for work and find out that you will have to spend time in the morning driving your children, notes Sheryl Hecht, licensed agent in the Dix Hills office of Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate.

Commute


THE COMMUTE

If you take the Long Island Rail Road to work, see the local train station and find out how long your commute would be, says Bill Sim, Great Neck-based regional manager with RealEstate.com, an online realty company. Find out from the municipality about obtaining a parking permit or sticker and examine the availability of parking during the time that you'd be taking the train. Clock how long the drive is from the house to the station.

If you will be driving to work, ask your Realtor about the traffic pattern in case there are peculiarities you are not aware of. Make the drive to work during the time you would normally commute to see what the drive feels like.

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TAXES

Visit the records room of your local municipality to see what your taxes would be to confirm what the seller says, Dell'Accio says. Checking will allow you to find out if the homeowner may be receiving an exemption that you would not qualify for, he adds.
 

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NOISE

If the home is close to a main road or to businesses, visit the area at different times of the day. A quiet block on the weekend could be very noisy at rush hour during the week or in the morning when businesses are first opening, Coletti says. The same is true for a home near the railroad tracks. Visit the home during peak hours when more trains will be passing by and blowing their whistles.

Listen to noise from both inside and outside of the house, says Diane Saatchi, senior vice president with Saunders & Associates in East Hampton. What seems quiet from the inside could be very loud from the backyard, she points out.

The same is true if a residence is on the same block as a school, or borders one. Visit the house when school lets out to find out if your block is the local hangout or if there are parking problems that may be of concern.

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OVERALL COMFORT LEVEL

Walk around the neighborhood to see if you feel at home.

"This is more emotional than anything else, just seeing if you feel good in a particular area," said Dee Dee Brix of Daniel Gale Sotheby's International Realty, Glen Head.

Contact the local police precinct or sheriff's office to get information and any statistics collected on the crime rate in the area.

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ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES

If the home is near an industrial area, power plant or any other facility that presents environmental concerns such as toxic spills, there are Web sites and databases to turn to for information, Smith-Mines recommends.

The site rtknet.org is the Right-to-Know Network and provides free access to databases and resources on the environment. It is operated by the Washington, D.C.-based OMB Watch, a nonprofit research and advocacy group. You can find information such as specific factories and their environmental effects on an area.

Also, the Environmental Protection Agency's site (epa.gov) contains local environmental information and data. Enter the ZIP code of the area where you are looking to buy to obtain information.

Commute


SHOPPING/ENTERTAINMENT

Tour the local stores and restaurants. If you like to walk to stores or have someone in your family who is elderly and doesn't drive, see if it is doable to walk to your local downtown, Smith-Mines says. Also, ask local police how safe it is to walk to stores, particularly after sunset.

Visit the local shops - from supermarkets to pharmacies to hardware stores - to see if they are the types of stores you would be likely to use and feel comfortable shopping in, Brix says.

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HOUSES OF WORSHIP

Ask your agent for information on the local churches, synagogues or mosques to find out about different options and if they are easily accessible from your home. Consider meeting with the local clergyman and perhaps attend a service to see if you will be comfortable with other members of the congregation, Saatchi says. At the same time, find out what kind of religious instruction is available for children if you plan to enroll them in a program.

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PARKS AND RECREATION

If sports are important to you, visit the local parks. Find out if there are any fees to use tennis courts, a pool and other recreational facilities, Smith-Mines says. Inquire about any local sports teams or leagues you or your family could join through the parks department.

Also, if the house you like is near the park, find out what the hours are and check with local police to see if there are incidents of crime or noise late at night, Smith-Mines says.

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MEDICAL FACILITIES

If you or someone in your family has a medical condition that requires frequent doctor visits, go online to research what special services your hospital offers, Sim says. Also, meet with doctors in local practices and get recommendations from your current physicians.

>> Selling tips: Advice from real estate experts to help you sell your home
>> Buying tips: Experts offer pointers to help you navigate today's homebuying process
>> Money: Learn more about mortgages, taxes and other real estate money matters
>> Best places to live on Long Island with...

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