A few weeks, Intero CEO Gino Blefari posted an article on the Intero Insider blog entitled “Need directions? Ask a Realtor.” In this post, Gino describes the vast knowledge many Realtors have to share regarding the local communities we serve. He goes on to say:

I’m always amazed at the amount of local community knowledge a typical Realtor has. If you need to know about the local preschool situation, where to get the best cup of coffee within earshot of a specific address, where to get free Internet while you enjoy a hot beverage or quick lunch, and where the best morning bun in town is served, ask a Realtor. Seriously.

But many times you wouldn’t know this as a home buyer or seller while out shopping for a Realtor. It seems that

many agents’ marketing materials don’t seem to get this point across – that not only is this agent a master at closing sales in a particular neighborhood or area, he’s also an expert at all things local. He knows the right plumbers, contractors, inspectors, landscapers, cleaning services, florists, and interior decorators. You name it.

I think it’s time agents get the recognition they deserve as neighborhood connoisseurs, specialists, experts. Sure, you want an agent with an impeccable track record of selling houses in your area or area of interest. You want a master negotiator, a well respected and well connected professional. But you also want someone who’s going to be able to either tell you exactly what it’s like to live somewhere, how close life’s essentials are, and so forth or connect you directly with the people who can answer those questions.

I personally couldn’t agree more with Gino’s emphasis on the importance of being able to share this local expertise with clients. Whether it’s regarding the local schools, finding a reliable contractor, or getting recommendations on the best restaurants in town, I pride myself in being able to assist my clients, friends, and neighbors with all of these things. Now, I’ve partnered with AmericanTowns (a wonderful site to find and share local events, things to do, and more), serving as their Los Altos Real Estate Expert and contributing to the Los Altos Answer Book. Through the Answer Book, I will be sharing my knowledge about our community with interested folks across the globe, covering various topics concerning our community and the resources, businesses, programs, and people that make it unique.

Sometimes you can’t judge a book by its cover, nor a neighborhood by its looks. There are neighborhoods that look perfectly safe and secure but experience some level of crime or safety issues.

Your real estate agent is a great and credible source to learn more about the neighborhood, future planned development, and schools. But, taking a few extra precautionary steps on your own will provide a little extra peace of mind.

Check with the local police department and ask about the crime rate and the type of crime being committed. The type of crime is going to dictate what type of criminal activity is going on and if it poses a threat or danger to the safety of your family.

Visit the neighborhood on several occasions and at different times; evenings, weekends, and during school time hours to see how the area changes. Observing the neighborhood and the people who live and work in the area will give you a better understanding of whether it’s a fit for you and your family.

Safety isn’t necessarily crime. Safety could be traffic issues too; how your kids are going to get to school; how far away the school is and what kind of transportation exists? Other important factors to consider: What is the geography around the school like? Do they have school crosswalks and crossing guards? Is there bus service? How many streets do your kids have to cross in order to get to school?

Whether or not you have children, understanding the school system and traffic issues are important because a thriving school district is a good indicator that the neighborhood will continue to be desirable and property values will continue to rise or stay steady.

There are a few more sources That can provide assistance in learning about the neighborhood.

  • Eat at a local restaurant and talk with the patrons.
  • Talk to local business owners. Even if they don’t live in the area, they will have some insight about the neighborhood and people living there.
  • Find out about owner-occupancy. Your real estate agent is a great source for this kind of information. Ask about rental values — even if you plan to live in the home. Tenants don’t always have the same pride of homeownership that owners do; thus properties are not always kept up as well as you may like.
  • Is the landscaping at major commercial developments kept up?
  • Drive around. Do you see home remodeling projects in progress? If so, this is good news. It’s likely that homeowners are planning to stick around and are willing to invest more in their homes because they like the neighborhood.

The more you learn about the location the less likely you are to discover something you really dislike after you buy and it may be too late. And if you already live in the neighborhood, the easier it will be to proactively change something you dislike about your neighborhood before it begins to impact your property values and more importantly, the quality of life for your family.

When most people are buying or selling a home, the house itself often isn’t the only major point of interest. The community around you, including the area’s economy, crime rate, and schools all play a part in your decision, because these things will directly affect you once you move into the neighborhood. Conversely, if you’re planning on selling the home in the future, potential buyers will be asking the same questions; knowing your environment is important regardless of your situation.

First off, what attracted you to the town in the first place? Was it the sense of community you felt in the town, or – depending on the location and your tastes – the quiet privacy of the rural location? A bustling downtown area? While all these characteristics are subject to rates of change, as is the economy of the area, it’s important to pay attention because the community can give you valuable clues as to the financial well-being of an area, as well as its safety.

Potential buyers and sellers should educate themselves as to how their city compares, on average, with the national and countywide crime rates. Are the police force and fire department effective and responsive to the needs of the community? Are they centrally located in the town so as to respond to emergencies quickly?

A good sign for a stable and viable economy is a healthy mix of commercial and business districts, which provide jobs to the local residents, and thus add an income source which the city can draw from to pay for upgrades and maintenance of local roads and city services. Conversely, the quality of city streets and neighborhoods tell a lot about the pride of ownership that exists within the town, as do the city buildings – the post offices, the libraries, and the schools. Even if you do not have children or don’t intend to have them, potential buyers will have concerns that include the local school systems in the area. What’s the best way to find this out? Take a drive around the area and take a look at the schools. Check for things like auxiliary trailers on the grounds – which could indicate overcrowded classrooms.

Call the school district to check on whether children always attend the school closest to their home. If this isn’t the case, find out why. If the schools are overcrowded, are there measures being taken into account for the growing local population, and how will this affect property taxes?

Last but not least, property taxes are often a make or break point for homebuyers. Higher property taxes mean that the homes have less of a square footage price, but they can also mean better quality schools and community services. Weigh in your options, and remember that keeping up-to-date on your community’s information pays off when selling your home.