Location Is (Still) Everything
It’s common knowledge that location is very important when searching for your dream home. Not only because you want to be happy and safe, but when it comes time to sell, properties in the best neighborhoods command higher prices.
It’s also equally important to get your foot in the door with a “starter” home so you can take advantage of some tax benefits and build some equity. From there, you can always move up.
So how do you go about identifying a desirable East Bay neighborhood, especially if you are not familiar with the area? I suggest three areas to consider:
Some of the best ways to find a great neighborhood include:
Word of Mouth through friends, locally-owned small businesses, meet up groups and community or volunteer organizations you enjoy, parents groups, sports clubs, etc.
Online Search: Once you’ve pulled up some general results, also browse for stories in local news media entities such as BayAreaNewsgroup.com, InsideBayArea.com, TheAlamedan.org, etc. to get further insight
Social Media such as Facebook Fan Pages of the cities in which you are interested.
Real Estate Agents can give you insights, trends and history of the local area.
In-person Visits: A great way to get a feel for an area is to spend some time there – even create a fun weekend getaway. Some of my favorite resources include:
- Wiki Travel: http://wikitravel.org/en/San_Francisco_Bay_Area
- Sunset Magazine: http://www.sunset.com/travel/insider-guides
- Weekend Sherpa: http://www.weekendsherpa.com/regions/northern-california/
The quality of schools will affect your resale value. Do your research.
Online: GreatSchools.org provides a lot of information about types of schools (public, private, charter, etc.), and individual schools’ performance ratings, reviews, and distance from your home address.
Social Media: Many areas have active general parent support groups (i.e. Alameda Parents Group, Berkeley Parents Network, Castro Valley Mothers Club, Oakland MOMS Club, Piedmont Parents, etc.) and even more specific needs parent support groups (i.e. Alameda Special Education Parent Support Group, Our Family, Mocha Moms, etc.) which can provide a general barometer of better schools.
However, as far as a school’s reputation, word of mouth can be very subjective, especially since kids’ needs and environments effect their performance or integration into a school varies – not to mention parental expectations can differ greatly.
Attend Local Parent Teacher Association Meetings: Connect with other parents in the area you are interested in by attending local PTA meetings. For a schedule of meetings and a lot of other helpful information, look online for Parent Teacher Association in a specific city and state.
Access to retail shopping and services, restaurants, entertainment, easy job commute options, and schools. One of the most popular sources to help gauge convenience is the Walk Score (https://www.walkscore.com/). Start by entering an address on the homepage and you’ll be served up a corresponding Walk Score and a map displaying what’s nearby, from restaurants, bars, groceries, parks, schools, etc. and the travel time via automobile, public transportation, bicycle, and walking.
Walk Score purports “multiple independent studies have demonstrated that above-average walkability correlates to an increase of home values from between $4,000 to $34,000”.
Proximity to recreation and cultural opportunities including parks, beaches, hiking and bicycle trails, dog parks, sports fields, basketball courts, theatres, museums, galleries, etc.
4. Diamonds in the Rough
Final thoughts, the San Francisco East Bay is an amazing place to live, prices are high and very competitive. Another option to explore is property in an up-and-coming part of town for your starter home. Oakland is a prime example of where buyers are finding housing stock with great bones in need of some TLC in neighborhoods including Fruitvale, Jingletown and West Oakland.
Before you pursue this strategy, be honest with yourself. Assess your tolerance for potential drawbacks like noise, traffic, commercial zones, potential environmental and crime issues.
A recent analysis of cost per square foot in proximity to Bart might help evaluate a “fixer upper” house or condominium location. As the bay area continues to grow time spend commuting will effect the upside of an investment.
There are also some online resources that provide information about recent crime statistics you may find helpful: