By Tom Salomone
Learn more about Tom on NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor
If you’ve spent any time looking for a home, you’ve probably heard the phrase “all real estate is local.” That’s because you never buy just a home — you buy an environment, an economy, a community and a lifestyle. Where your dream home is located is just as important as the home itself.
According to National Association of Realtors data, the quality of a neighborhood is a factor for 60% of homebuyers, more than any other factor. It’s important to gain a thorough understanding of the area you’re moving to before buying real estate. After all, the median length of time Americans live in their home is 10 years, according to NAR data, so you’ll want to make sure it’s a place where you’ll enjoy spending time.
Figuring out where that ideal place is can be a challenge. Here are a few tips to help find your perfect hometown.
Unless you’re narrowing your search to cities where your current company has offices, chances are you may need to find a new job. Job markets vary from state to state and city to city, so finding an area that caters to — or at least provides some opportunities for — your professional life should be a prime factor. If you work in the stock market, you may be limited to a few large cities like Chicago or New York. If you’re an elementary schoolteacher, you can be fairly confident that anywhere with a school district will have some professional options.
Exploring questions like, “How many jobs in my field are being advertised?” and, “What is the average salary for my profession?” will give you a better idea about whether an area is going to be a good fit. Also, research the potential for advancement in your field. If you’re looking to buy a home in a certain area, you’ll need to make sure you have room to grow professionally.
» MORE: What to expect from the homebuying process
Cost of living
How much it costs to live in a specific area is another enormous consideration. Simply because you can afford to buy a home in an area doesn’t necessarily mean that area is affordable. If you can’t live comfortably within your means in a certain place, it probably isn’t the best place for you.
Affordability covers more than just the home purchase. The cost of groceries, gas and utilities all factor into the cost of living. Taxes can change drastically from state to state. Five states have no sales taxes, and nine don’t collect individual income tax. Another potentially large expense is homeowners insurance. This can make a significant difference in determining whether an area is affordable.
Figure out how much money you’re comfortable spending on necessities each month, and use that to narrow down the places you can afford to live. If a place requires you to constantly scrimp, scramble and save to make ends meet, you may regret moving there.
Did you spend last winter swearing you’d never live through another snowstorm? If so, a move to the Southwest might be in your future. Is your perfect day overcast and rainy? The Pacific Northwest could be an ideal place to call home. Climate plays a significant role in our day-to-day lives. It influences the clothes we wear, the food we eat and the hobbies we can enjoy.
No single location can have everything, and no matter where you end up calling home, you’ll probably have to make a few compromises. So think of your list of non-negotiables before you decide. You can save yourself a lot of suffering — and weather-related heartache — by figuring out what you can live with, or without, before you make your investment.
Tom Salomone is president of the National Association of Realtors.