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  First time home buyer guide

My First Home:
A guide for first time home buyers

Checking out potential neighbors

"Smells like they're cooking a goddamned cat over there." -- Art Weingartner in The 'Burbs

Before you discover that you've moved in next to Reuben Klopek, let me suggest a way to avoid the dearest of neighbor nightmares.

Most first time home buyer guides I've come across serve up the same simple dish about researching a neighborhood. It usually runs something like this:

"Hit the Web for detailed information on neighborhoods offering homes in that range. Sites like xxxx provide not only the most up to date listings from the local MLS, but also data on schools and crime stats."

While this is not a bad recommendation, it's merely a starting point. The data on crime stats generally give you only an idea of the level of crime in the area; not what types of crimes are being committed or in which exact areas they are more frequent.

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You don't need general crime stats. You need to know as much as is legally possible about what you're immediate neighbors are up to -- in the street and behind closed doors.

So, once you've decided on a house or a neighborhood, be sure to make a couple of drive-bys during the night to see what kind of activity is going down.

But, most importantly, take a drive to the local police station and ask for a list of all the calls dispatched within a 1-mile radius of your neighborhood in the last two years. This report should list the dates and times of the calls, the addresses the police were dispatched to and the reasons for the calls.

When we bought our first home, my wife, a crime reporter at the Sun-Sentinel, picked up the report for us -- unfortunately we waited until after we signed the contract -- and we happened to notice that the quaint, oak-tree shaded house next to us had police visit three times in the last year for "domestic dispute." It was too late to affect our decision, but at least we had an idea of what we might be dealing with.

Always best to go in with eyes wide open.

Please send in any other tips for choosing a good neighborhood you have used or recommend using. I'll be sure to post them here.

A neighborhood investigation tactic from Holden Lewis: Knock on the doors of your prospective neighbors, at a reasonable hour, and ask them about the neighborhood before you make an offer on the house.


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