Your dream home may turn into a nightmare if it’s in the wrong neighborhood. Begin by thinking about the activities that are most important in your daily life: place of worship, clubs, yoga class, the theater, favorite shops, and markets, for example. As you look at various neighborhoods, consider how a move would affect your participation in the activities you enjoy the most.
Moving to a new neighborhood can feel like relocating to another state. Buyers can find themselves so obsessed with square footage and amenities that they forget to check out the quality of life in the neighborhood. Safety, access to the things you need, and the ability to get around are major concerns before moving. Properly check out what’s available, and you won’t make the mistake of renting or buying a great home in a terrible neighborhood.
New York City has a diverse collection of neighborhoods. Before you decide that a certain neighborhood fits your lifestyle, consider the points below.
If you have — or plan to have — children, you should look carefully at the local school district. The website InsideSchools.org offers a comprehensive and independent look at city schools. Even if you don’t use the local public school, choosing a home in a good school district may improve your home’s value if you decide to sell at a later date.
If your children are enrolled in a private school, consider how your move will impact their daily commute.
Consult an Expert
Talk to your real estate agent about average home prices, vacant properties, the average length of time properties remain on the market, and whether price trends are increasing and declining in the neighborhoods, you are considering. This will help you identify desirable locations that will enhance and protect your home investment when buying.
New York City has a high cost of living, especially when it comes to buying and renting real estate. Don’t expect to find a cheap place, even if you’re okay with living off the beaten track.
Prices fluctuate quickly as some neighborhoods become trendy and others lose their appeal.
Currently, Tribeca is the most expensive neighborhood. If renting expect a one-bedroom apartment in Tribeca to cost about $4,000. You can cut that price down by moving to Astoria, where a one-bedroom rental only costs about $1,850.
If you want a hip neighborhood with decent prices, look to Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and Brooklyn Heights. Those areas have one-bedroom rentals between $2,000 and $3,000.
You should also consider the different crime rates in New York City neighborhoods. Luckily, the New York City government makes it pretty easy for you to check crime rates in different areas.
Research crime statistics in neighborhoods you like. Look at both the number and type of crimes that are reported, and whether the numbers are increasing or decreasing. Try to determine if crimes are clustered in a specific area, such as a retail outlet.
Stop by the local city economic development office and get statistics on average income and property values for your desired neighborhoods, and if they have increased or decreased over time. Find out how many properties are owner-occupied versus rental units. As a general rule, areas with a higher ratio of owner-occupied homes will have higher property values.
Consider how much crime you and your family can tolerate, and choose your neighborhood accordingly. It will have a huge influence on your experience living in New York.
New York City is a cultural hub, but each neighborhood has a unique flavor. Investigate those cultures before choosing a neighborhood.
If you don’t care about going out on the town, then the Upper East Side’s quiet streets could suit you well. If you want to enjoy museums and parks without getting on the subway, consider apartments in Midtown or the Upper West Side.
Those who prefer eclectic shops and entertainment should think about crossing over to Williamsburg, Bushwick, Cobble Hill or Brooklyn Heights. These hip neighborhoods have a lot of up-and-coming artists, bands, and entrepreneurs.
In addition to the neighborhood culture, you should spend some time thinking about the building you live in. The Upper East Side might offer plenty of quiet for most residents, but experiences are different if you live in an apartment above a bar, club, or restaurant.
Parks and Recreation
If you have children, you can learn a lot by visiting the local playground. Watching how parents interact with their kids, and the general atmosphere can tell you whether an area is safe or not. New York City has laws against those without children visiting a playground, but your local park can offer the same kind of sightseeing with a purpose for those without children. We sometimes overlook the importance of liking our neighbors, and parks offer neutral ground to get to know them.
Market and Food
Supermarkets carry different qualities and varieties of foods, so you can get a dose of local flavor by visiting one. Local options for quick food often come down to convenience, but do you really want to take a train or taxi to get a burrito at midnight when you’re hungry? Checking out the restaurants and bars also help give you some idea of local nightlife. Will you need to travel to find a good time?
Visit the Bodega
The bodega can tell you a lot about the neighborhood and offer some conveniences and comforts. Things to look for include:
- Beer selection: craft beers suggest a younger crowd.
- Ethnic foods: if you want to know what cultures you might encounter, check out the foods on offer.
- Perks: bodegas generally offer a quick stop for coffee or a newspaper, but some are experimenting with higher quality coffee or special snacks to attract new faces.
Nearby Train Stations
The local stops can tell you a lot about foot traffic in your area and when it gets most hectic. NYC is a busy city, so you should never expect complete calm, but you can tell when rush hour hits and plan your schedule accordingly.
Take a Night Stroll
One of the best ways to tell whether your neighborhood is safe is taking an evening stroll. The later the better, with midnight being a good cutoff point. Are streets well lit, and is there enough activity among residents or incoming traffic? Do you feel safe walking alone? How much you’ll tolerate is up to you, but you’ll be thankful you took the time to ensure safety the next time you have to make a midnight run for something.
Find Important Landmarks
Important landmarks act as more than just guides, and libraries are a good example. Lots of events that help get you acquainted with your neighborhood tend to be held at libraries. Other important places to look for include schools, firehouses, and police stations.
Choosing the ideal neighborhood in New York City can seem like a daunting task, but you can learn a lot by simply scoping out the area beforehand.
Types of Housing
Some neighborhoods have become associated with certain types of housing. If you prefer a specific type of housing, then you can narrow down your choices.
If you like brownstones, try Brooklyn Heights and the Upper East Side. Some brownstones have been split into apartments. Others are much like townhouses, which usually cost more.
If you like loft apartments, look to downtown New York City. Any neighborhood that once had a lot of unused commercial space will probably have loft apartments. These apartments can give you a lot of space for your money and are ideal for people who love open areas.
If you want to buy or rent a stand-alone house, you will need to drive away from the city’s center. Places like Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn have beautiful stand-alone homes. You can also find stand-alone homes in some parts of Queens and Long Island.
Take a Walk
Once you’ve selected a few neighborhoods, plan a visit to walk—not drive—around. Are the homes well maintained? Are the streets clean and quiet? Consider striking up a conversation with a potential neighbor working or playing outside, and ask her how she likes the neighborhood.
Try to visit the property at night and take a walk to a nearby restaurant and back again, as if you were living in the home.
In many cases, the ideal neighborhood will just “feel” right when you visit, and having all the relevant statistics and information will support your decision.
Now that you know a little more about housing in New York, what neighborhood will you focus on?