Now that you've determined what you want in a home versus what you need in a home (the hardest part); the only step left before you actually begin to look at homes is to determine where you want to live? Keeping in mind that purchasing a home is a long term commitment, you really want to do your research here. Your REALTOR® should have good knowledge of most areas; but you will be living in the location you choose so make sure to step out of your comfort zone and really get to know the area, the people, the demographic, the crime rates. Learn about the schools, the amenities, the walk score, the transit score. Talk to people in the community, view community Facebook groups - do your research before you buy. The most important piece of finding the right home is the location. The last thing you want to do move into your dream home in a great community backing onto a quiet green space only to find out that in 3 years that green space will be a condo building looking right into your backyard.
The concept of an ideal community varies for each buyer. Your ideal community could be a close-knit community with trees, playgrounds and great schools. Mine might be a downtown block of clubs, shops and condos.
1. Become an expert on the communities that interest you.
Get a true feel for the community by attending open houses, meeting the neighbours, walking the community in the afternoon and late in the evening and spending time in local establishments such as restaurants and coffee shops. If you are seriously interested in a specific property? Knock on the doors of neighbours on that street and in the general area. Ask everyone who will speak with you about crime, noise, traffic, other neighbours, and general pros and cons. By becoming an expert on the community you plan to live in you can be confident you are choosing the right or wrong location for your home.
2. What is happening in the area?
If you see chain stores and independent retailers and restaurants, this is a sign that a neighbourhood is well-established or on its way up. These businesses signal a degree of affluence. Also, they have typically done a lot of market research to assure themselves this community is stable and worth the investment.
3. Look at the exterior of the homes in the neighbourhood.
Look for clues that the homeowners are keeping up with or investing in their properties. Improvements like new gutters, painting, re-roofing, gardening and landscaping, new windows, fences and decks tell you the owners have pride in their homes. If there are a lot of homes with overgrown lawns, weeds, garbage and homes that look like they haven't been well taken care of, maybe this community isn't the one for you.
4. Neighbours are organized and friendly with each other.
Neighbourhood meetings and groups are more prominent than ever with social media. Most communities have a group Facebook page, or community league website. Do some research, how do community members interact with one another? Are there social events, and meetings? If so attend one and ask questions. Subscribe to community newsletters and learn as much as you can about the community and how it operates.
5. Are there people out on the streets?
Seeing someone jogging down the street at 10 pm, or watching children walking to school and to parks tells you that people generally feel safe in the community. Do you see people on front porches sitting on porch swings? Generally if residents are willing to get out and walk around, it's a pretty good sign of its vitality and safety.
6. Get a realistic picture.
If you've only seen the community on a weekday at 1 pm, then go back to it a few times. Go at night, and on weekends in the day and evening to get a realistic picture of what happens all hours of the day.
7. Check the crime statistics for the area.
You can view the EPS Crime Map at any time for any neighbourhood in Edmonton and decide for yourself if the crime in the area is something that you're willing to live with long term.
8. If you have children or are planning to have children in the near future
It is important to know what schools are in your community and how they perform when it comes to programs, and student performance. You can compare Public Elementary Schools here and Public High Schools here. You can also find information about Edmonton Catholic Schools here.
9. Do cars dominate the area? Or are there sidewalks, and streets or walking paths that encourage pedestrians and bicycles?
Sidewalks that are wide with enough room for outdoor patios, benches and strolling will give the neighbourhood a homey feel. You can look up the Walkscore for any community in Edmonton here. Luckily you should find most areas with an above-average walk score considering that Edmonton is the 7th most walkable large city. The most walkable neighbourhoods in Edmonton are Downtown, Garneau and Rossdale.
10. Home Ownership Rate is high.
Generally, communities with a higher rate of homeownership are known to be more stable, but there are always exceptions to the rule. Typically renters come and go, long-time residents are more likely to watch out for one another and the community as a whole. Statistics on homeownership can be hard to find, for Edmonton you can locate this information by visiting YEGishome.ca and searching your community.
11. Are the city services good?
Is the trash picked up when it is supposed to be? Are the streets paved and well maintained? Beware of broken streetlights, cracked or crumbling sidewalks and vacant homes with boarded-up windows and unkept yards. Are there emergency services close? Where is the closest fire station or fire hydrant to your property? (This is something good to know as your home insurance may request this information). Is there a police station nearby? You can find a map of local Fire Stations in Edmonton here and a list of police stations in Edmonton here.
In the end, if you spend your time researching communities, and learning about them before you start looking at homes, chances are better that you will find something that fits your needs, and there won't be any surprises in the long run. Now the fun begins, you can start looking at homes. Congratulations you are one step closer to homeownership!