Realtor Insider – Three Community Checks to Make Before Buying Your First House

Realtor Insider explores inside the mind of a Realtor to learn the hidden secrets of buying and selling real estate.

Most first time home buyers love the process of searching for their first place, cherishing the moments when they find a property that seems to check all the items on the wish list. However, there is more to buying your first house than the property itself.

Have you ever heard the statement that you can choose your friends, but not your family. Well, you can’t choose your neighbors either. Since most buyers are now staying in their homes for up to eight years, your neighbors will be a big part of your life for a large chunk of it. You need to make sure you check over some aspects of the community where you are moving your life. If you are unsure about your neighborhoods, go knock on their door and introduce yourself. If you are too introverted to try this trick, you can always drive around the neighborhood in the morning or evenings, where you get the most activity, to see what is what when it comes to your possible future neighbors. When buying your first house, this is a no-brainer.

In fact, many would argue that the community where you are buying your first house should play a bigger role than the property itself. For one thing, you will eventually want to sell your home. Location still plays a huge role in the resell of your property. If you live in a terrible neighborhood, it will drive down the price of your house, or at least keep the appreciation to a bare minimal. Be sure to ask your Realtor for sales data including price appreciation for the last three years.

Community also plays a part in how your receive city services as well. You won’t get city hall to admit it, but some neighborhoods carry more weight with the powers to be than other neighborhoods. If you want your neighborhood to get a quick responses from emergency services, it depends heavily on where you live. Do you want your trash to be picked up on time? Your location will matter. The best way to find out to go talk to your friends and family on what they have heard about a specific neighborhood. Online sites like Reddit and City-data.com will also be great places to get the lowdown on how much the city pays attention to a specific neighborhood.

So without further ado, here are three community checks you need to make before you buying your first house. We have included what we believe most buyers need to check as far as the data points as well as some possible online resources they can use to find this information. If all else fails, ask your realtor. They have access to all of this data readily through their MLS.

Neighborhood scout is a great way to do several community checks together

Please note: GET REALty has an affiliation agreement with Neighborhood Scout, which is a great source to do several community checks in one place.


Check Local School Districts – First time home buyers should always check the school district before buying their first house. If you don’t have children, you might one day and it always a good idea to know if the schools your children will be attending are performing well. Even first time home buyers who don’t have any plans to have children should take a look at the school district because this can play a part in the resell value of your home.

There are several sites online for you to check the school district. Great Schools has a great interface for easy searching of schools near an address or zip code. If you want to keep it on the school district level, you can use Niche to find out some useful information. Most of the large real estate portals like Zillow and Realtor.com, have school ratings with each listing. Of course, you can also request more information from your realtor who will have access to this information as well.

Check Local City (and HOA) Codes and Ordinances – No matter where you live, you will have some rules you will be required to follow as a home owner. At the most base level, you might find your first home located in a Home Owners Association (HOA). These legal setups are created by the developers of a certain subdivision (sometimes older neighborhoods get them started by residents).

HOAs exist to keep the property values of their members at a high level. The residents elect the HOA board, who then hire a HOA management company to enforce the written rules. Residents have to pay regular dues to the HOA for the upkeep of the subdivision. HOAs are either loved or hated. Few people like to be told what to do with their properties, but without the HOA to enforce rules, many property owners will not maintain their lots and improvements as they should.

You can require HOA documents when buying your first house, which outlines the rules of the organization. These documents will also inform you about the required dues. If you still want to know more about the HOA, ask your realtor, or you can check out a page like HOA Management to see if they have any information on your HOA.

On the broader level, the city you reside will have ordinances that you are required to follow as a home owner. Most cities will have their ordinances on their city website for you to read. You can also ask your realtor about specific ordinances that might hinder something you wish to do with your property (aka raise chickens in the backyard).

Check Neighborhood Crime and Demographics – The last community check first time home buyer should always is the crime and demographics of the neighborhood.

Crime statistics can be misleading so take them with a grain of salt. Buyers can ask their Realtor for the actual statistics or go to a site like city-data.com to a do little research of their own. Most crime experts, however, will tell you that these statistics can be littered with issues. Police departments are bad about recording crime and it doesn’t even cover the crime never reported.

If you want to know truly how badly a neighborhood is or is not, you should ask friends and family what they have heard. You can also explore social media feeds to see what residents are saying about their neighborhoods. Finally, you could also look around the neighborhood yourself, maybe even talk to some of your future neighbors. First hand experience is a much better indication of criminal activity than crime statistics.

As far as demographics, this author can’t say much about it without breaking a few laws, but if you are really wanting to know the demographics of a area, ask your Realtor, or go to a site like city-data.com.