I recently caught up with Andrew Schiller, founder of NeighborhoodScout.com, a site that helps homeowners find suitable neighborhoods. The idea is simple: a pair of empty nesters, a married couple with children, and a young single all are likely to have different ideas as to what constitutes a desirable neighborhood. NeighborhoodScout helps them to find compatible places.
There are two ways to look for a compatible neighborhood. One way is to, metaphorically speaking, search with a telescope and zoom in. The other way is to start with a microscope and zoom out.
For years, NeighborhoodScout encouraged home seekers to look with the telescope and zoom in. The user would answer a bunch of demographic questions, and the site would reveal which neighborhoods in the specified city would be most suitable.
Schiller says: "The idea was that, instead of people looking at house listings or apartment listings first, they would be able to put in their search criteria of the best places for them and find it instantly among a haystack of opportunities within their commuting range. … Then they could focus on looking at houses in select neighborhoods that best matched them."
But that isn't how most people house-hunt. They don't search for compatible neighborhoods first, then for houses, then for mortgages. Most people identify houses of interest, often with a Realtor's help, then find out if the neighborhood is a good fit.
So the company has developed a new search method -- the one I call the microscope-and-zoom-out method. Using NeighborhoodScoutReports.com, home shoppers can type in the address of a home they're considering, and then the site will deliver a report that describes what the neighborhood is like and which types of people would feel most comfortable there. "Almost like a Carfax for neighborhoods," Schiller says.
You can get a free overview about a neighborhood's cultural character, setting median prices, and the mix of renters and owners. Or you can buy a complete report -- one for $19.99 and five for $49.99. Realtors can buy reports in bulk and give them to their clients.
I got reports for my neighborhood in Jupiter, Fla., and the neighborhood where I grew up in Fort Worth, Texas. My current 'hood is characterized as "quiet and urban sophisticates." Basically, this means that there aren't a lot of kids around, and residents are fairly well educated. Indeed, being the parent of a teenager, I wish there were more kids around. As for "urban sophisticates," well, let me put it this way: My wife and I attend the opera and we're both college graduates, but I doubt any of our immediate neighbors would describe themselves that way.
My old stomping grounds in Fort Worth are classified as "walkable, urban sophisticates, hip & trendy and quiet." That seems accurate. If you don't think Fort Worth as a hip and trendy, but quiet, neighborhood, you haven't been to Ridglea. Fort Worth is kewl. Too bad it's so darn hot this time of year.
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