, ,

People who want to move say that they’re house hunting, but real-estate pros say that the most important thing about buying a home isn’t the house; it’s the location.

A couple of years ago, after a moderately long search, my wife and I bought a house. Now that we’ve lived in it for a while, I have perspective enough to offer advice based on our experience and errors.

Look at crime rates, auto accidents, sex offender registries, pollution levels, and nearness to conveniences and necessities like parks, schools and grocery stores. You may also want to consider school quality and other factors. (If you’re hunting in Southern California, look into my book Relocating to Los Angeles and Orange County.)

Once you choose a neighborhood, visit it at different times of day.

In the early evening, for instance, a lot of people walk their dogs, so it’s a good time to meet the locals and ask questions like “I’m thinking of buying a house in this area. Are the neighbors all friendly with each other, or does everyone keep pretty much to themselves?”

For an even clearer picture of how sociable (or noisy) a neighborhood gets, visit on a Saturday night, when people are likeliest to throw parties.

Go late at night, too. Do you feel comfortable walking in a ’hood after, say, 9 p.m.? See https://www.trulia.com/vis/when-crime/ for data on when different types of crime happen.

Since the darkness of night can conceal flaws — as my wife pointed out about a neighborhood that appeared lovely under cover of darkness, in the light of day “it looked like Beirut” — visit during the day as well. Do a lot of houses have burglar bars on the windows? Do the walls of back alleys or businesses have a patch of paint that doesn’t quite match the rest of the wall? It could be a sign that the owner has covered up graffiti or some other form of vandalism.

Speaking of businesses, watch out for a large number of vacant storefronts, especially if they seem to have been empty for a long time. Also see if the area has a lot of payday-loan and check-cashing businesses. Clues like these may indicate that the neighborhood is economically weak.

Good luck!