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Published: Thursday, 7/10/2003

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Real estate practitioners know, when someone buys a home they are not just buying a house--they buy into a neighborhood or community many ways, the homebuying process includes investing a specific lifestyle or quality of life.

Regardless of how some areas may compare to others, most people like where they currently live. In fact a third of U.S. households rate their satisfaction with their current neighborhood as a 10, on a scale of 1(Worst) to 10(Best), according to the American Housing Survey (AHS) conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau on behalf of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

This figure rises to almost 40 percent for homeowners. IN fact only about 10 percent give their current neighborhood a 5 or less.

However, a fifth of renters give their current neighborhood a 5 or less.

The National Association of REALTORS asked its membership to rate on a scale of 1 to 10, the importance of various community attributes their residential customers. Ranking the highest, at 9.15, is the importance of "having a good school system in the area." The second highest ranked attribute is "having a low juvenile crime rate in the community."

Other important attributes included good public infrastructure, in the way of transportation, water and sewers. Environmental issues, such as safe air and water, also ranked high.

In addition to ranking various community attributes, REALTORS were also asked which one feature is most important to their residential customers. Overwhelmingly, almost 70 percent of respondent REALTORS stated that "having a good school system" is the most important community attribute to their customer. A low juvenile crime rate is the most important attribute for 11 percent of the respondents followed by a good transportation system, at 7 percent of the respondents.

Another interesting finding of the AHS report is that the number one reason recent-movers choose their current neighborhood is either the specific house or convenience to their job--a tie as the top response. Also important to the homebuyers is the look and/or design of the neighborhood and its convenience to friends and relatives. While a good school system ranks high among desired community attributes, less than 10 percent of the AHS respondents list it as the main reason for choosing their present neighborhood.

Another method of gauging which community attributes are important to residents is to ask which current conditions do they find bothersome.

According to results from the AHS, almost two-thirds of households report that they have no serious problems with their current neighborhoods. The most frequently cited (serious) problem is bothersome people living in the neighborhood (mentioned by almost 12 percent of households). Another eight percent indicate noise and traffic to be a serious problem in their neighborhoods.

Given reported public concerns over growth and density, it is perhaps surprising that only about one percent of households say that undesirable development or growth is a serious problem in their neighborhood. Similarly, only about one percent of respondents find poor local public services to be a serious problem.

Residents' concerns with serious neighborhood problems are likely to differ depending upon where they live. Residents of urban areas reported the highest percentage of serious problems with their neighborhoods. Only 60 percent of urban households reported no serious problems with their neighborhood, while 72 percent of rural households reported so. The most striking difference among the locations is problems with crime. Nine percent of urban residents report a serious problem with crime in their neighborhoods. Only two percent of rural and suburban neighborhoods report serious crime problems in their neighborhood.

There are also some differences in neighborhood concerns across other household characteristics. Overall, renters have more concerns with the neighborhoods than homeowners. In fact, the percent of renters showing concern with problems of noise and crime are at least twice the percentage for owners.

So, what does this all mean? Several factors influence where a family chooses to live. Quite often, the most important component, a specific house is only part of the package. In addition, home buyers are buying into a community.

Surveys of recent movers indicate that most neighborhood choices are driven by job-and house-specific concerns. REALTOR surveys indicate that real estate professionals also believe school and infrastructure characteristics have a large influence on community choice. Also of importance are current residents' problem with their own neighborhood. In general, most households have few or no serious problems with the neighborhoods.

Buying a home is a big decision--a decision that requires a great deal of thought and contemplation. Make sure you consider all possibilities and consult a real estate professional before you make your move.



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