When you're looking for a new home, the task can sometimes seem overwhelming, even if you have a basic idea of where you'd want to live. If you don't, then it can seem even more insurmountable. Whatever category you fall into, here are some of my favorite online resources for figuring out where to hang your hat.
1. Living in a city is not the same as traveling there, but sometimes travel resources can help you get started if you're at a total loss. Air BnB's neighborhood guides (ex: San Francisco) are a good resource, since they often draw on the experience of people who live in the city in question.
2. Real estate websites like Redfin, Zillow, and Trulia are great resources, not just for finding the actual home that you want, but for getting a sense of the cost of real estate in various areas. Even if you're a renter, the area's real estate value can give you a bit more of a sense of the cost of living in a particular neighborhood.
Searching without a price limit in a desired neighborhood can give you an idea of the basic range you would be working with. For instance, let's say you're new to Chicago and you think you might want to live in Bucktown. Looking at Bucktown on Zillow, you can see there's very little available under $400k, and some places are going for up to $3 million. If you see a piece of property for considerably less, then it may be a good home investment, or you can assume that it will need a great deal of work. But you can get a basic idea of the neighborhood costs with maps such as these.
Another way to tackle this issue is to limit a map to your budget and see where housing is available. If you have a max of $300,000, and you know you want to live in Bucktown, then you will probably see there's not much available. But with this search parameter, it becomes clear that just to the west in Logan Square, there are some properties available.
Given its proximity to your desired neighborhood, it might be an option to check out. Which leads us to….
3. Take walks! There's nothing like walking a neighborhood to get a sense of it. What's the transportation like? Local business options? Are there grocery stores? If you have a particular home in mind, visit it and spend some time walking in the area around it. (Or, if it's more rural, perhaps take a short drive). Check out the amenities and the general vibe of the place.
4. Once you have your desired neighborhoods narrowed down, there are more internet resources to help you familiarize yourself with them a bit more.
For urban living, Walk Score is a good site. They rank cities and neighborhoods according to their walkability, ease of transit, and bike-friendliness. If any of these transportation needs are important to you, this will give you a sense of the areas that might be most conducive to your lifestyle.
City Data is a great resource for all kinds of statistical information about things like population density, house values, the racial and ethnic composition of particular areas, household income, rent, age, gender breakdown, etc.
Many cities also have neighborhood newspapers (ex: San Francisco). A bit of internet research can probably tell you if this is the case for your area.
Twitter is another good option for neighborhood information, and it's often excellent for up-to-the-minute information about cultural events or news. Searching for the name of your neighborhood will often produce a variety of feeds.
Are there any other sites or methods that you've found useful in your searches?