Location, Location, Location: New Search Tool Highlights The Importance of Neighborhoods

There’s a reason for that tired saying about real estate: It’s all about “location, location, location.” The quality of a neighborhood was a top concern for 60% of recent homebuyers, according to a 2017 report by the National Association of Realtors. And real estate website Trulia found that 85% of its users who plan to buy a home in the next year and a half said that the neighborhood was equally or more important than the house itself.

Scoping out a neighborhood you’re not currently living in can be tricky; one smart way to do this is to rent out an Airbnb midweek and spend a workday living there, so you can experience what the commute and nighttime noise would be like firsthand. But there are online tools that can give you a decent sense of a place from afar, like taking a Google Street View stroll. And today Trulia adds to that toolbox with a new feature called “What Locals Say” — which paints a picture of a place based on resident responses collected on its website over the past year.

The feature, still in beta, is only available in larger cities for now. And as with any crowd-sourced online content, you should probably take these insights with a grain of salt. But I gave the tool a test drive in Boston, and it’s pretty spot on in a lot of places.

For example, 98% of respondents in the pricey, fashionable South End said it’s dog-friendly. This is a gross understatement: There’s a dog-treat bakery, off-leash dog parks, and cafes that look like one of those paintings where dogs are playing poker. And 99% said you can walk to restaurants — again, an understatement, as the South End has been Boston’s gastronomic go-to for years.

28% said the South End is quiet, and here’s where you have to remember that all of this is pretty subjective and will vary even within a single neighborhood. Tremont and other main streets are quite loud and busy, riddled with the aforementioned restaurants and shops. But certain South End side streets are surprisingly serene — at least, for the middle of a big city.

Likewise, 45% said their neighbors are friendly, and I’ve been chatted up and even invited inside by amiable South End strangers more than once. But remember this is from the perspective of local Bostonians. Folks from more congenial regions of the U.S. may not realize that simply making eye contact in winter can be considered a very intimate gesture around here.

Other useful indicators for house hunters include whether respondents plan to stay in the neighborhood for more than five years, if kids play outside, whether those streets have sidewalks and are well lit, and whether people feel safe walking alone at night. In the South End, 57% said kids play outside (I’ve seen this on occasion), 82% would walk alone at night, and 34% said they plan to stay for five years.

Across town in Brighton — home to a lot of college students and nomadic twenty-somethings — only 12% of respondents plan to stay longer than five years, and just 26% said kids play outside, but 92% would walk alone at night.

Outside of Harvard Square in West Cambridge, meanwhile, 100% of respondents would walk alone at night. In fact, the area sounds pretty ideal all around: Three out of four respondents said kids play outside, that neighbors are friendly, and that they plan to stay for five years or more. Of course, that’s one reason the price of a single family home here can reach eight figures.

The feature also tells you how many people responded in each neighborhood (and the tool is only available in areas with at least 10 responses). West Cambridge had only 25 respondents, compared to more than 800 in the South End and over 2,000 in Brighton — making the latter two far more reliable.

We asked some other Apartment Therapy staffers to test-drive their neighborhoods, too.

An editor who lives in Candler Park in Atlanta can vouch for the area’s dog-friendliness, saying, “The rating says 100% dog friendly, which explains how I saw a lost dog the other day and by the time I ran inside to grab a leash, no less than four separate people had come to its rescue, including the chef at one of the (96 percent walkable) restaurants who saw the dog out his tiny window and burned a batch of cinnamon rolls to rescue it.”

In Carrollton, New Orleans, an editor said, “I clicked on some nearby neighborhoods and I felt like some of the ‘percent who would walk alone at night’ were a little off.” However, they added, “Mine had a high rating for holiday spirit, and I have to say I felt like that was very observant, because I do think a lot of people in my ‘hood decorate and get excited about holidays. There’s a house nearby that sets out an elaborate Halloween feast on a dining table in their front yard every year, complete with skeletons posed eating from golden goblets and stuff.”

To check out the feature, search for homes in your area on Trulia, and scroll down until you see “What Locals Say.” Give it a spin for your neighborhood, and let us know how accurate you think it is in the comments.

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