How to inspect your future neighborhood
Case the neighborhood
This requires a different brand of detective work. Most buyers visit prospective neighborhoods only at midday and don't see their complexions change. Inspect the neighborhood at varying hours. Park the car down the street and walk around the block on a Saturday night. Are there any deal breakers such as rowdy neighbors, dogs that bark nonstop, street racing or airplanes flying low overhead?
Other "watch-outs" include unkempt and cluttered lawns, street-corner lurkers, houses with frequent visitors, too few or too many children, strange odors (from a nearby landfill or industry), ear-splitting train horns, ceaseless traffic din from nearby highways, graffiti, bright streetlights or commercial lighting streaming in windows -- and an abundance of homes for sale or in foreclosure. A good agent can produce lists of both. Too many for-sale homes can signify a neighborhood in transition to mostly rentals.
If you feel bold, politely strike up conversations with folks who live on the street and get an earful.