In home buying mode? 6 location factors to consider

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In home buying mode? 6 location factors to consider

We’ve all heard the real estate mantra "Location. Location. Location." But homebuyers often overlook this because of another factor: Cost. Cost. Cost.

Homebuyers also sometimes downplay the perfect location in order to afford a home that meets their interior and exterior checklist. For example, if you are looking for a house with a large backyard and remodeled kitchen, and it isn’t located in the most desired neighborhood, you may buy it anyway -- if the price is right.

Indeed, finding a house in your price range with all the pertinent aesthetic qualities is critical. But as the old adage implies, you can change the look of your house, but you can’t readily pick it up and move it to another location. For this reason, here are six location specific elements you should consider before buying a house.

The schools

If you have kids or plan to start a family, buying a house in a town with excellent public schools should be an important factor in your home buying search. If the community has a top-ranked school district, you will undoubtedly be moving into a neighborhood filled with other people who want to send their kids to these excellent schools. A good school district isn’t the only reason why it’s key to buy a house in a neighborhood with top schools.

Even if you have no kids or intend to send your children to private school, property values tend to be higher in areas with the best public schools. This means that when the time comes to sell your house, you will often have an easier time selling it than you would if that house were located in a community without top-notch schools. Why? Other buyers tend to zero in on towns with excellent schools for the same reasons you did. Although the market dynamics can be different depending on the community where you are looking to buy, you can learn about the home values in areas with good schools and compare these houses to other nearby towns by searching on real estate sites like Zillow and Redfin.

To learn more about schools and relative home prices, you can also talk to your realtor, who should have statistics and information on local school districts. You can also go to GreatSchools.org to learn about schools in any region of the country.

The commute

I just moved from a Boston suburb with an excellent public school system into the city. One of my main must-haves: a shorter commute to work and easy access to public transportation. As our lives changed and my kids finished high school, great schools were no longer our top priority. We sold our large suburban house in order to debunk to a smaller, urban fixer-upper where we can walk to public transportation. Why? My husband was no longer willing to spend hours in his car each week getting to his downtown office. Now, he walks to the train station and his car often sits in the driveway for an entire week without use.

As there are always trade-offs when moving to a suburb or city center, if the length of your commute is important to you, make sure you take into consideration the amount of traffic you’ll be dealing with and viable public transportation options.

The ease of access to shopping and local businesses

If you want to live near shops, restaurants, local gyms and other businesses, you will likely pay a premium for this, since homes in city-close locations tend to cost more than homes in outer suburban locations, according to a new report put out by Zillow. "As of the end of 2015, the typical U.S. home in an urban area is worth $269,036, almost 2 percent more than the average suburban home value of $263,987," stated the report.

According to Zillow, "homes in urban areas have been appreciating more quickly year-over-year than their suburban counterparts since March 2012." In just the past five years (2010-2015), average urban home values grew 28.4 percent, compared to 21.1 percent for suburban home values. Over the past year, U.S. urban home values grew 7.5 percent, compared to 5.9 percent for suburban homes.

Another thing worth noting: if walking to shops, the beach and other popular spots is important to you, look up the home’s address on real estate websites and apps like Zillow, Trulia and Redfin. Each of these sites will give you a property’s Walk Score, a number between 1 and 100 that measures how easy it is to walk to locations and area businesses to do errands.

The crime

If you find a perfect house at a bargain basement price and you’re wondering why it costs less than a similar house five streets over, it may be because the one you have your eye on is in an area with a high crime rate. Indeed, high crime statistics in a neighborhood often cause property values to drop and prices to stay low. For this reason, before plunking down a hefty down payment on an affordable house, make sure you check the crime rate by asking your realtor for current data. You can also easily research neighborhood crime at CrimeReports.com and view a detailed map of crimes around a particular address at MyLocalCrime.com.

The noise

Regardless of your ability to hang with the night owls and wake up with the early birds, you’ll eventually want some quiet time. And while some noise will be obvious to you while you’re visiting the house, some less-than-obvious noise makers should make it to the top of your checklist. First check to see if the house is on a main street, bus route or train route and what normal commute hours call for - to ensure they don’t overlap with your normal down-time.

You’ll also want to find out if the house is under a flight path or close enough to an airport that noise will be an issue for you.

The 'will it float' test

Is the house you’re eyeing in a flood zone? Realtors should disclose this information but if not, you can check the address on the FEMA Flood Map website. If the house is in a flood zone, make sure you also find out how much a homeowners insurance policy will cost before buying that house. Flood insurance can be costly.