Finding a home in welcoming community

Many home buyers believe that moving to a suburban community with upscale houses will accordingly give them a warm, welcoming neighborhood.

But Mark Nash, a real estate broker and author, says there's no automatic correlation between the income level of a community and the affability of its residents.

"You can move to a small file cabinet of a condo in the city—like I did last summer—and find wonderfully interactive neighbors. Or you could position yourself in an area with super-fancy homes and discover that people there have no time to talk because they have power jobs and weekend homes," Nash says.

Nowadays, many buyers are eager to settle in a community where neighbors are gracious, since they intend to live there for a lengthy period, according to Nash, author of "1001 Tips for Buying and Selling a Home."

"We're no longer in the 'go-go' years of real estate, when people jumped into a neighborhood to stay for just a few years before grabbing the appreciation and moving again. Now they plan to stay much longer. So knowing their neighbors is more important," he says.

Because there's no simple formula for finding a friendly neighborhood, Nash urges buyers to investigate before making a purchase. Here are several pointers:

Look for community solidarity through a strong neighborhood school. A school is important for more than just the educational opportunities it gives students. A strong school can help draw people together, tightening the bonds among residents of all ages, says William Bainbridge, president of SchoolMatch Institute, which provides consumers comparative information on school quality.

•Think twice before committing to an "age-restricted" development. Many people over 50 are drawn to age-limited communities where they hope to find the sorts of social activities that will fill their days once they're retired. Yet Nash says some older people who choose such a community face an unexpected result: boredom.

Those with varied cultural and intellectual interests—and the capacity to program their own discretionary time—could find life in an age-restricted community that's located in a resort area to be especially monotonous.

"Many of my clients who've tried this say all their neighbors ever talk about are their aches and pains, when cocktails will be served and what's for dinner," Nash says.

To be sure, some thrive on the pre-planned sociability of a community designed for active seniors—where art shows, barbecues and card games occur on a schedule.

•Check out the social dynamics of any neighborhood you're considering. Buyers who want a friendly, interactive community are well advised to spend some time there looking for less-than-obvious clues about how people relate.

To learn more about the underlying social dynamics of a community, don't hesitate to go door-to-door and strike up conversations with residents, or talk to local shopkeepers. Ask them about the pros and cons of living in the area.

Go through the neighborhood on multiple occasions. Nash suggests that those with a strong interest in a community visit the area at varied hours, to look for patterns of behavior.

"Walk or drive through the neighborhood four times in a day—during the morning, at mid-afternoon, at dinnertime and at 11 p.m. Notice whether people are relating to each other or staying holed up in their homes," he says.

•Don't assume that residents in a brand-new development will be unfriendly. Are you interested in moving to a subdivision that's still under development but fear it could be an unfriendly place to raise your family? If so, Nash suggests you learn more about the community before rejecting it based on what could be an unfounded belief.

Granted, brand-new communities are often populated by two-income families with parents in their 20s to 40s who have extremely demanding schedules. Still, many who move to these new areas are highly motivated to build lasting friendships with neighbors who also have kids and would like to share child-care responsibilities.

Remember that friendship is always a reciprocal activity. Those with a support structure within the immediate radius of their home can find neighbors to help ensure the security of their home while they're away. Most importantly, they can count on help in an emergency situation.

Universal Press Syndicate

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