When it comes to neighborhood expertise, one real estate agent is pretty much like any other — right? Not so fast! Depending on where you live or where you’re moving, a neighborhood specialist could be heads and shoulders above the competition, and for that reason, it doesn’t always make sense to list with your cousin’s best friend or old college roommate, even if you already have a personal relationship with that person. Think about it: Every neighborhood is a little bit different, and agents who try to sell anything to anybody anywhere might know a lot about real estate in general … but not very much about your particular situation or need to move into a specific area, not to mention the anomalies and idiosyncrasies of homes in different parts of a single market. Before you find a real estate agent to help you buy or sell a home, think about these reasons to consider a neighborhood specialist, then decide whether someone who knows your area intimately might be a better fit for you.
Statistics don’t tell the whole story
You might think that an agent can discover everything they need to know about a neighborhood or market by simply looking up statistics online — and it’s true that neighborhood, market, and home data is more readily available online than it ever has been in the past. But statistics never tell the whole story; for that, you need someone who’s well-versed in what those statistics mean and which ones matter more than others. Here’s an obvious example: Let’s say you were considering moving to Houston in the early fall of 2017 and you were puzzled by the number of homes with a longer-than-average days on market number. If all these properties are lingering on the market for so long, that must mean that the Houston area experienced some softening and there were great deals to be found for buyers! Well, not necessarily; a little weather event known as Hurricane Harvey delayed a lot of closings for both buyers and sellers, which extended the days on market for the homes listed at that point in time. Of course, the hurricane was national news, so it’d be hard to miss something so clear-cut, but the point remains — you can’t always tell what’s happening with a home, a neighborhood, or a market by looking at the numbers. You’ll frequently need local context and information to help you understand exactly what those numbers mean.
School ratings can be misleading …
School ratings are and should be important to buyers even if they don’t have kids; they can affect the resale value of your home and the people who might be willing to buy the property from you a few years down the road. But as useful as they are, they don’t always paint a full picture of a school. There are a number of companies that calculate school ratings, and they all use slightly different methodologies to do so. One common practice is to use state test scores, and that tells you something about a school — namely, its ability to prepare students to take a state test. Well, what does that actually mean? Maybe schools that focus more on in-depth academic performance in specific subject areas might not perform as well on the more generic, broad topics covered in a state test, but that doesn’t mean the school is “average” or “poor.”Some rating systems include other variables, like parent feedback and college preparation, and some rating systems “grade on a curve,” so to speak — there will only be so many “excellents” to go around, so a school that’s almost identical to its neighbor could be ranked in a completely different category because it scored slightly lower in one area. And some schools might excel in some areas but not in others, with amazing sports facilities or a highly competitive STEM program … but not both. Ratings can be a good jumping-off point for parents and homebuyers to consider, but they rarely provide a full picture of just how “good” the school really is. For that, you need to ask a local expert….
And so can crime ratings
Just like school ratings, crime ratings often aren’t the best way to determine how safe a neighborhood truly is. Crime ratings are typically based on reported crimes and compiled on a county-wide basis, which means that one part of the county is always going to be “high crime” while another part is “low crime,” even if there is very little difference in the number of reported crimes between the two of them. This can be pronounced in urban, rural, and suburban counties, where perhaps there isn’t a lot of crime — either violent crime or property-based crime — but small differences in reporting between one area and another can make one area appear to be much safer than another. Consider a relatively rural county with maybe one or two town centers as an example. It might alarm you to see those town centers classified as “high crime,” but when you realize that the concentration of people is much greater than the surrounding areas — which may not have very many residents or homes at all, or could include national or state parks — then it makes sense that the town centers will have relatively higher rates of reported crime. Or think about an urban neighborhood where two major highways intersect; you might see higher reported crime in that part of the county because there tend to be more robberies along big thoroughfares, but is it really any less safe than neighborhoods in the same county that contain only one major highway? It’s hard to tell on a heat map, and this is another area where a neighborhood expert can shed some light on just how safe an area is.
Learn which repairs (and upgrades) are most common
Everything from the soil to the weather can influence wear and tear on a house, and those variables aren’t always standard even within a neighborhood, let alone from one neighborhood to another. This can be another area where statistics or even government data can be at least slightly misleading. There are properties built on riverbanks all over the country that aren’t technically considered part of a FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) floodplain, so as a homeowner you aren’t required to purchase flood insurance for your home … but should you anyway? A neighborhood specialist can tell you whether flooding has ever been an issue in the area and what you need to know about insurance, for example — and there are plenty of other cases where you might not be required to secure insurance on a home for earthquakes, but someone who knows the neighborhood well can help you understand what happened to similar homes of the same age the last time there was an earthquake and what that means for your own decision-making process.
Commute questions answered
If you travel to and from work or drop your kids off at school — or shuttle them around to activities — then knowing when the roads are busiest and why is going to have a big impact on whether you want to put an offer on a house or not. Maybe you’ll have the smoothest commute slightly outside of peak hours, at 7 a.m. or 10 a.m. in the morning; a neighborhood specialist can help you figure out whether the commute situation aligns with your job’s flexibility.
And commute times can also shift with the seasons; if you live near a sports facility that’s packed during baseball season, or a popular concert venue, then you’ll want to know what to expect in terms of getting in and out of your neighborhood when the time comes. Or if your neighborhood goes all out for Halloween or Christmas and you should anticipate visitors driving by to drink in the sights, you should get that information before it becomes an annoyance or a serious disadvantage, depending on your situation.