Dear Ray,

We want to buy a home in 2012. We cannot afford to purchase in the most popular neighborhoods, so we’re looking at up-and-coming neighborhoods, and less-expensive neighborhoods. Most of these neighborhoods don’t have “location, location, location.” 

Besides location, what other neighborhood features should we prioritize to make this a wise purchase?

— R.S.


Yours is an important question for anyone who is planning to buy a home. Just because you cannot afford the most-popular neighborhoods doesn’t mean you can’t find a great home in less-expensive neighborhoods. Fortunately for you, Seattle has lots of great neighborhoods that are very affordable.

Below is my list of the “new priorities” for Seattle homebuyers.

 

Commute distance

Work commutes in Seattle can be a nightmare, affecting your quality of life. When evaluating any home you should pay close attention to the work commute.

Can you walk or bike to work? Is bus, trolley or light rail available? Do you need to cross any bridges or pay any tolls to get to work? 

Driving to work, parking and dealing with traffic is time-consuming and expensive. Talk to neighbors; find out how long it takes them to get to downtown. How much time are you willing to spend each day commuting to work? 

 

Amenities, quality of life

Does the neighborhood feel cohesive? Does it have its own unique character? What’s the “Walkscore” of the neighborhood? 

Can you easily access the grocery store, pharmacy and post office? Is there a park, a fire station and a library nearby? Are there interesting retail shops and restaurants in the neighborhood? 

If you’re going to live in the neighborhood, you’ll want to have some of the amenities you enjoy. 

Spend an afternoon in the neighborhood; meet your spouse or a friend for lunch. Does the neighborhood support your lifestyle and feel like a place you’d like to spend time? 

 

Schools

What’s the reputation of the local schools? Again, you can learn a lot by talking to neighbors. You can also contact the presidents of the schools’ PTSA. 

Even if you don’t have children, you should investigate the local schools. Good schools are usually an important draw for a neighborhood and an indication that there is strong community supporting the schools. 

 

Future growth

What’s the history of neighborhood, and how does the neighborhood look today? Are there signs of improvement? Are new businesses opening and older businesses continuing to thrive? Do you see signs of modest new growth and in-fill development? 

Or is the neighborhood becoming overdeveloped with big, new apartments? 

Some development is desirable, but explosive growth can change the character and quality of life. 

 

Crime

Crime is at the top of most buyers’ lists when evaluating a neighborhood; I’ve re-prioritized crime at the bottom of this list. 

The reality is, crime is everywhere. Crime patterns also change over time. Higher-crime neighborhoods have been transformed by citizen block-watch groups. 

To learn more about neighborhood crime, contact the local police precinct. 

While crime is an important factor to consider when you buy a home, I don’t believe it should be the No. 1 issue on which you base your homebuying decision. 

 

Setting your priorities

There are other neighborhood amenities that you may want to consider, including the availability of enhanced technology such as Wi-Fi, ethnic diversity, arts and cultural venues, a movie theater, access to medical professionals, children’s entertainment, a dog park and access to a major shopping mall. It all depends upon your lifestyle. 

You can learn a lot about a neighborhood by reading the community newspapers, blogs and websites. You’ll learn good things about the neighborhood, and you can learn about neighborhood controversies or new developments that are planned. The hyper-local media are a great way to get a feel for a neighborhood from an insider’s point of view. 

Here’s a tip: Make a list of the top 10 amenities you want in your future neighborhood. By making a list, you have the opportunity to ponder what’s really important to you. You might find it challenging to prioritize the top three to five items. 

Be willing to compromise on the items at the bottom of the list as long as you get some of the amenities at the top of the list. 

Seattle has lots of great neighborhoods — don’t limit yourself. Pick several neighborhoods and spend some time exploring each one. 

Happy house-hunting! 

 

RAY AKERS has been a licensed Realtor for more than 25 years and is a lifelong Seattle resident. Send your questions to ray@akerscargill.com or call (206) 723-2800.