boston neighborhood

How to Choose the Right Neighborhood for Your Family

Are you a first-time home buyer in the Greater Boston area?

Wondering how you can find the right neighborhood in Boston for your family?

Most first-time home buyers shop for all the wrong things when they start looking for a home. They fixate on floor plans, home size, or even the color of the walls. But none of these features are the true indicator of whether you and your family will be happy in your new home.

Instead, it’s the neighborhood that makes the difference. It’s important for you to choose one that you can be happy with.

When choosing a neighborhood it is vital not to get too wrapped up in pre-conceived notions and stereotypes. Each neighborhood should be carefully considered on its own merits. It’s important to keep an open mind.

Below, you’ll find a step-by-step process for discovering the perfect neighborhood for your family.

Step 1: Download The Best Boston Suburbs for Young Families.

This will give you a broad-brush overview of the neighborhoods where families are typically the happiest. Keep this guide handy, as you’ll need it for the remainder of the process.

Step 2: Plot the commute of each working family member.

Pull up Google Maps and find each one of your workplaces. Try to determine commute times to each location via train, bus, or car. I would try to choose neighborhoods which keep commute times down to 20 minutes or less for each working family member, though this isn’t always possible.

My guide does list commute times, but they’re all for downtown Boston. That won’t help you if you work in some other part of the metro area. Always, always check.

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Why start with your commute? Because a long commute can make you very miserable very fast, even if everything else about the neighborhood seems absolutely perfect.

Use commuter information to choose out six neighborhoods which will receive a closer look.

Step 3: Consider schools.

Obviously, you want your child to have the best education he or she can get. I’ve written extensively on this subject: see 6 Boston Suburbs with the Best Public Schools.  If none of your top suburb picks appear on this list, use Boston Magazine’s School System Rankings, Needham’s Greatschools, and US News and World Reports High School Rankings  to determine which of your picks has a school system you’d be happy with.

Use school system information to narrow your choices down to 4 neighborhoods.

Step 4: Figure out your top amenities.

This is usually where most people start, and that’s something that gets people into trouble!

The typical neighborhood amenities most homeowners care about are: larger homes, yard space, affordability, proximity to shopping, dining, or entertainment, and/or proximity to outdoor or sports opportunities. Choose one or two amenities to really focus on, the ones that matter to you the most. For example, If your family is down at a park every time it gets sunny you might want to make that a priority.

Remember, you will have to engage in some give-and-take here. If you want an affordable home in the heart of Brookline you may have to start thinking about condos instead of single family homes. If you want a huge yard, you may have to accept that it’s going to take you longer to get to Boston’s hottest restaurants.

Find three neighborhoods from your shrinking list that offer the amenities you desire. These will be the three neighborhoods we focus on as we start searching for your new home.

Step 5: Search for homes and make in-person visits.

There isn’t an article or guide on the planet that can actually compare with visiting each neighborhood in person. When your buyer’s agent shows you the house, don’t just look at the walls, floors, and appliances. Take the time to glance up and down the street. Get a feel for your neighbors. Take a look at the local shops. Try to get a feel for what the experience of living in this particular neighborhood will look like. Remember this can change from street to street!

Eventually, you’ll find a home and a neighborhood that just “clicks.” And because you took the time to perform the research in a methodical way rather than approaching the home purchase process in a haphazard or emotional one, you’ll know you’ve made the right decision by the time it’s time to close on your home. When that happens, there’s no better feeling in all the world.