When you're looking to buy a home, it's important to find a good neighborhood. Not only will the quality of the neighborhood make living in your home more enjoyable and worry-free, it will help the value of your home appreciate more quickly, giving you a higher return on your investment when you decide to sell.
The things to look for here are quality and variety. You don't want unsightly dirt patches or unmaintained lawns. And even if everything is in pristine condition, the same arrangement of trees and shrubs house after house is monotonous. A varied ecosystem of trees, shrubs and grasses is more likely to stay healthy for the long run by having different reactions to drought, pests and temperature changes.
A neighborhood that features a wetland area can be a big plus too, increasing the area's ability to deal with excess rainwater in a way that diverts it into a natural catchment area and away from your basement.
Also, neighborhoods that are sloped and hilly, rather than flat, look like more mature neighborhoods. Open green spaces and landscaped streets add to the allure as well.
Basically, anything that doesn't look cookie-cutter is a plus. Look for short streets, neighborhood-specific street signs, cul-de-sacs and well-defined curbs and sidewalks. A neighborhood away from major traffic arteries will have less noise and present less of a danger to your kids or toy poodle.
Try to drive through the neighborhood at different times of day, and look for activity in the neighborhood. Are there people sitting on their porches? Walking dogs? Taking their kids on a walk? If residents are willing to get out and walk around the neighborhood, that's a good sign of it's vitality and safety. A neighborhood with an invested population will stay vibrant and valuable for a long time.
If the homes in the neighborhood looks well taken care of, you're probably good to go. Keep an eye out for furniture in the yard, cars parked in the front yard, and homes in bad repair; these can be a sign of a neighborhood in a downward spiral. Good signs could include gardens, backyard add-ons like pergolas or flagstone patios, or a neighborhood park.
Whether you're religious, a good amount of churches in the area suggests a strong community. So do schools, libraries and some niche shops like natural grocers and locally-owned cafes. Those businesses don't thrive without a strong local community, which is exactly what you're looking for.
Also check the neighborhood's proximity to fire and police services; besides helping you feel more secure, a near-by fire station can lower your home insurance premiums.
Try to get a feel for the level of ownership in the community. Are there a lot of renters in the neighborhood? More homeowners means greater stability, and a higher level of investment in the health of the neighborhood. Also, in these recent tough times for the housing market, find out how many homes are up for sale or in foreclosure in the neighborhood. Too many foreclosures will plummet housing prices in a community over time.