In my 10 years of selling real estate, I’ve personally worked with hundreds of buyers who all have different criteria for what they are looking for in their future home. During our first or second meeting, we have “the talk” where I learn all about their wants and needs in a home. First-time single buyers are pretty easy to pin down - location is super important along with 2 bathrooms, a decent size bedroom closet and preferably a garage. Move-up buyers who are having their first or second child are also pretty predictable - good schools, a safe yard, 3-4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and DEFINITELY a garage.
As buyers continue their search, their purchase criteria will typically change. Acceptable locations are refined and a few home features are classified as "deal breakers". A lot of time and energy is put towards making the right decision. But while buyers focus on quality of construction, setting and physical amenities, one element that is just as important as the home you buy is almost always overlooked. That element is community.
Community is defined as a "group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.” One might say that people who live in Mason are generally the same. While others might point out that buyers moving to Over The Rhine are hipsters. And although these generalizations may have some truth to them, stereotyped neighborhoods and even a single street can vary by a large degree and have a big impact on your overall happiness with your home.
My Personal Experience With Community Life
In 2011, my wife and I had a 2-year-old boy as well as one on the way and had outgrown our home. We decided to move from Norwood up to the northern Cincinnati suburbs and had a long list of wants and needs just like any other buyer. We spent nearly every weekend for 6 months traveling to different communities and driving through neighborhoods in the hopes of gaining clarity on where we should begin the next phase of our lives.
I remember the first time we drove through the Stonebrook neighborhood in South Lebanon. The neighborhood had a ton of character with hills and a couple of ponds with fountains. There was an oversized pool, an awesome playground and kids playing throughout. Nearly every other home had a swingset in the backyard or signs of children bursting from the garage. We both looked at each other and agreed on the neighborhood with hopes of finding the right house.
Fortunately for us, Stonebook had several homes which we could afford but none that fully fit our list of wants and needs. And although we likely could have moved a little further north or east to get the perfect home, we chose to sacrifice on the house to keep the neighborhood. The community we have found in Stonebrook is more than just a group of people sharing a place or characteristic. It’s a group of people doinglife together.
Benefits of Community Life
There are a TON of "doing life together" communities. Given the amount of time we are confined to our home with 3 young children, our social life is spent with neighbors in the same position as us. Not only can Jackie and I maintain a regular social life, but our kids also have an abundance of friends to distract them from fighting with one another.
There are plenty of occasions when life throws you a curveball. Whether it’s needing an extra egg, an extra hand moving a new couch, borrowing a tool or watching your kids while you attend to a family emergency - having neighbors who you can rely on during these times makes life so much easier.
How you can Determine the Level of Community in a Neighborhood
Determining the level of community in a neighborhood can be difficult . Here are some signs to look for to determine whether the neighbors around you will have a big or little impact on your life:
- Are the neighbors or community referenced in a positive way in any of the marketing materials?
- Is there a directory of neighbors on the refrigerator or in plain site?
- Are there common area amenities in the neighborhood that might help bring people together?
- Is the style of homes similar throughout the neighborhood which may indicate people in a similar life phase?
- Are neighbors considerate in how they maintain their homes and yard to show pride in ownership?
- Does the neighborhood appear to be filled with renters or owner occupants?
- Do neighbors approach you or are they friendly if you approach them to discuss the neighborhood?
But even better than making assumptions based on the questions above, is knocking on doors and simply asking what it’s like to live in the neighborhood and how well everyone knows their neighbor. It’s always better to learn whether you can do Community Life in a neighborhood before you buy the home.
How to Improve Community if it’s lacking in your Neighborhood
Even in areas like Mason, West Chester or Hyde Park, I commonly find that my clients don’t know their neighbors and their level of social interactions rarely extends beyond a wave hello. With social media and the general paranoia that exists in today’s culture, this shouldn’t be too surprising. But lately, I am seeing a resurgence in friends and clients longing for more authentic relationships. Although my business would surely benefit from people deciding to move to a different location to find community, there is no reason why you can’t simply improve the level of community in your current neighborhood. Here are a few easy ways to start building better relationships with those living closest to you:
- Coordinate a street/neighborhood-only potluck
- Join your local Homeowners Association Board with a focus on community initiatives
- Launch the neighborhood app Nextdoor which connects neighbors of a community together
- Make an effort to start a conversation with your neighbors or coordinate a get together
Unfortunately, there isn’t a great way to determine the quality of community through the MLS or Zillow which makes hiring the right agent even more important. A brand new agent can help match you with properties that fit your “wants and needs” list, but a truly great agent is able to know you beyond a list. A truly great agent has wisdom that comes from watching buyers make regrettable mistakes in the past and can help you avoid these mistakes in your own purchase.
The best part of community life is that it can always get better. Make an effort to build into your neighbors this season as it will be one of the best gifts you can receive in your life!
Part of my responsibilities as an agent is to ensure overall happiness in a home. This consists of buying a great physical house, at a great price and in a location that they will love. Having a list of "wants and needs" will only get you so far.
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