Choosing a New Neighborhood: What to Look For

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Outgrown our Albany condo - but where to?

May 2011

Hi All: We are quickly realizing that with Baby Girl here we have grown out of our Albany condo and are hoping to move. The question is, where to?

Given the dynamic and turbulent nature of the California budget situation and local politics and that our daughter is still a baby we have decided NOT to use schools as a factor in our decision (by the time it really matters, things will very different than they are today.) We are starting to research so we can narrow down neighborhoods and what home features are most important.

The place where I need advice is to compile a list of factors that we should consider in looking at specific homes and neighborhoods. Please no endorsements of why your neighborhood is so great. What I really need are the specific things you more experienced parents think are important. Here are a couple of examples that I already have on my list so you can see what I mean: 1) It would be nice if kitchen had window to backyard so kids can play there while I make dinner 2) Living in a hilly area makes stroller walks difficult 3) Bedrooms are better above main living space than below so parents dont keep kids up if they are walking around after kids go to bed.

If any of you have ideas for things to add to our list based on your experiences, we would greatly appreciate it! Thanks! House Hunter

Fellow house hunter, we're looking for a new place to call home as well, and so I'll share what I've discovered after thinking about all of this for over one year. Personally, the idea of a ranch with a longer backyard for play is very appealing. Usually the bedrooms are located at one end of the house, away from the main living area and kitchen, so there is never the problem we currently have of worrying about banging around in the kitchen while our son sleeps in the room above (or worrying about downstairs noise in the living room, while dad works in the office upstairs). Our friends who live in ranch style homes have such spacious backyards that the children can run and explore to their hearts delight. No running in circles due to lack of space!

Depending upon what is important to you, check out the walkability of your new digs on I would also drive around the neighborhoods you are interested in at various times of day - try it early in the morning during commute, and late at night. Park your car and take notes. You can also source neighborhood crime reports. Personally, I feel that schools are something to consider because due to unforeseen circumstances and simply how fast time seems to fly once kids enter the picture, we sometimes get 'stuck' in a living situation longer than we anticipate - and considering that preschool and kindergarten happen before you know it (plan on the application process one year out from school entry), schools can definitely be a factor. If allergies are an issue, consider what's hanging around your neighborhood (I live on the other side of the hills now and allergies are worse); consider your proximity to your support network of friends and family, and your medical crew, your savings (or not) with car and house/rental insurance (we saved a bundle from our last place), any increase or decrease in your utilities budget (this can vary widely) and most of all any work commutes. If you or your partner have to extend your commute, that could negatively affect family time. You might not feel it right away, but when your baby girl is older, it may become an issue. I would also consider where you see yourself down the line because it takes time to get grounded in a community. Lastly, I check the shake maps at USGS, look around for cell towers and the like, and consider where you could potentially be if a major quake happened (are you separated from your partner by bridges, tunnels, etc. I know this could potentially be seen as catastrophic thinking, but we do live in a major earthquake zone). Oh, and sap from pine trees will totally destroy the paint job on your car if you don't happen to have a carport or garage, and regular car-washing expertise. just another house hunter

What an interesting question! The thing is, a lot depends on just how you want to live your life; some people will prefer a more urban environment and others a more rural or suburban lifestyle, whether they have kids or not. And many details flow from that. Also, of course, especially when it comes to the specific size and features of a house, the price you can pay determines a lot.

But I will tell you what mattered to us, OTHER than the schools, in choosing a neighborhood and a house in which to raise our family (my kids are now 10 and almost 7, and we've lived in the same house since before the older one was born):

- Pedestrian-friendly neighborhood, where it is easy and pleasant to walk or bike to schools, parks, restaurants and grocery stores, and the houses are close enough together that kids can walk next door or around the block to visit friends. This excluded the hills, as well as the more car-oriented suburban areas.

- Area with a community feel, people working in their yards on weekends, someone organizing block parties and that sort of thing. A place where my kids would HAVE neighborhood friends to visit on a casual basis, and I could send them next door to borrow a cup of sugar.

- Enough private, fenced-in yard space for a young kid to run around and play with little or no supervision. With a large enough lawn for things like a climber, playhouse, croquet game or what-have-you. I wouldn't care whether there's a kitchen window overlooking the yard, as long as the yard itself is reasonably safe and I can HEAR what's going on in the back yard, from inside the house. (I also wanted good access from the 'public' areas of the house to the back yard, and did not like the houses where the only door to the back deck was from the master bedroom or the view from the living room toward the back of the house was of a bathroom. But I think this has more to do with our entertaining habits than with parenting per se.)

- We couldn't afford as large a house as we knew we would ultimately want, so we looked for one that it would be relatively easy to add onto. The configuration of bedrooms, bathrooms, and spaces for work, play, crafting, etc., is so individual that it's hard to generalize. Your own family's sleeping arrangements and habits will determine what makes sense; for us, I like having the bedrooms close together and also within earshot of the kitchen and living room, as it seems safer when the kids are very young. Only now as they get older do I sometimes think a bit more separation might be nice.

- Lots of storage space! We are not exactly minimalists to start with, and the accumulation of STUFF as our family grew and the kids get older is kind of astounding. Yes, we do give away or sell many things that they have outgrown, but it is still a challenge to manage everything. And I'm not talking just closets, but also attic/garage/garden shed/whatever.

- A laundry room. Kids generate a ridiculous amount of laundry! I did not want the washer & dryer to be in the kitchen or in a grimy basement or outdoors, but in a separate space inside. Happy househunting! Albany mom

Your list is a good start. I'd add that a hilly area also is harder for kids to learn to ride a bike, etc. It is nice to have a neighborhood park, a place where there are not train tracks, airplane traffic, busy street (especially w/trucks). For us, we prefer a neighborhood that has some land between the homes (rather than stacked on upon the other) as there is more privacy as well as yard space for the kids. We chose a neighborhood that the houses have larger front yards too so the houses aren't right ontop of the street. If you like to be out in the yard a lot, an area that has less wind and warmer days (not a lot of days that are fogged in). It's nice to have easy access to good food stores, etc. Another thing to check out when looking at an area is to go at different times during the day through the neighborhoods as well as the stores in the neighborhoods for it will give you a feel for the area. If it's a new city you'll be moving to, you'll want to see if they have programs for kids (and parents/kids) to help you meet people in your new area w/children around the same age as your child. Good luck. anon