Choosing a rental in an area to which you are completely new can be a daunting task.
You will want to make a list of priorities such as commuting time, budget, walkability, noise level and green space. Think about all the things that are important to you in a new neighborhood and home.
If your search will be driven by schools, then GreatSchools.org is a good resource. It is always a good idea to visit the schools in the neighborhoods you are considering and check for reviews from parents.
Pick the brains of friends and co-workers who live in the area you are considering. It would be especially helpful to find people who moved from your current neighborhood to the one you’re considering. They’d be able to tell you what’s similar and different, and help you replace your favorite haunts in the new neighborhood.
But if your friends own a home rather than rent, they may be unaware of how much prices have changed since they were tenants. This happens a lot with recommendations from friends and co-workers. What was affordable 10 years ago may not be affordable now. You can look at websites such as Realtor.com to get an idea of what prices are in the neighborhoods you are considering.
Asking people for recommendations is still a good place to start even if the areas they recommend are out of your budget. In some cases, although one neighborhood is outside your budget, a nearby one might be a better fit and have some of the qualities you seek. You might be just one Metro stop or two away from restaurants, entertainment and shopping.
Once you find an appealing neighborhood in your research, it’s important to visit. There can be many neighborhoods that sound great on paper but may not really work for you. You need to walk around to see whether it’s the right fit: This is the fun part of finding a new neighborhood. Have dinner at a local restaurant. Each area has a different personality and pulse. It won’t take long to find out if the neighborhood is a bit too bustling with activity, lacking activity or if it has just enough activity for your preference.
Go to a local park, take a look around and talk to the potential neighbors. They will probably be able to tell you things that you might not have found out online, like where the best indoor pool is and where to find the best yoga class.
Test the walk to the Metro, commute via Metro or the drive to work during peak rush hour times to understand the reality of your commute. The distance and timing on a map might be quite different than what the reality is during the busiest times of day.
Talk to people in a local coffee shop, restaurant or local watering hole: They will be very happy to tell you what they think about their neighborhood, which can be invaluable in finding which neighborhood is the best for you to call home.
Nancy Simmons Starrs is founder and president of Apartment Detectives, a D.C., Maryland and Northern Virginia apartment-search service.