“Shop for neighborhoods, not homes”
Nell Crawford, Scriptwriter, LA
- Tour the area with a real estate professional or relocation consultant
- Go grocery shopping
- Note the type of consumer that local businesses attract, and the effect it may have
- Test community services – parks, libraries, sports centers and public transport
- Visit neighborhoods at different times – during rush hour, daytime, evenings and weekends
- Check with local government, police or embassy/consulate about security
One of the best pieces of advice we can give you is to be patient, and spend time getting to know your new surroundings, before you start picking out kitchens and drapes… We know, we’ve been there, and the temptation to snap up the first half-decent place that looks clean and has a gleaming kitchen is almost too much to bear, but resist it. You need to get a really good understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of your different neighborhood choices before you sign your life (and, of course, your deposit) away. If you are able to live in temporary hotel or apartment accommodation before you take a longer term lease, do it. It is both time-consuming and expensive to move, so do as much as you can to get it right first time.
It’s worthwhile getting out and about with a realtor or estate agent who knows the local areas, but let them know that you are intending to look at a number of areas before you sign on the dotted line. As nice as they might be, they are not your friend – their job is to find you a house, not a home. So use their expertise wisely, and remember that it is not in their best interests to show you the less desirable features of the neighborhood.
If you want to get an idea of who your new neighbors would be, go grocery shopping. Not only do you get a great cross-section of the community, you also get to see how they behave… And again, try to stop in at different times of the day and week – Saturday mornings, midweek days and evenings, to get a really broad view.
Spend as much time as possible checking out the local amenities and businesses, public transport systems and grocery stores, not only the types of businesses they are, but who they market to. Fast food means potential litter, late opening hours and more traffic. Sports bars are noisier, and karaoke? Really, really bad singing. You need to get a clear picture of your new neighbors, warts and all, not just the ones that occupy the neighborhood, but also those who visit. The same advice applies twofold if you are heading to an area without a professional to help you – go exploring. Your Embassy can give you good advice about security issues or hotspots, and as they would be the ones getting you out of trouble, listen to them. Visit at different times of the day and night – the agents are most likely to show you around in the daytime, when most people are at work or school and all is peaceful. Once 5.30 p.m. rolls around, you may find parking impossible, a neighbor’s dog never stops barking, and the local children use your back wall for a handball court. You need to feel secure enough to be able to go out for the evening without feeling concerned about what happens to your neighborhood after dark, so give the local police station a call, and get their advice if you have any concerns.