Before looking, define needs

FINDING COMFORT, NOT COMPROMISE: Greg deVeer (pictured) and Kelsie Wheeler balanced their "wish list" specific criteria their dream house would embody with a realistic sense of what they could get.

By Stacee Sledge, for The Bellingham Herald

One of the most important factors in buying a home is choosing the neighborhood that suits you best. It’s vital that you find an area that matches your lifestyle — as well as your bank statement.

It took research to find the right spot. Know what you need and want in a house, and how much you can afford to spend.

When Greg deVeer and Kelsie Wheeler began to look for their first home two years ago, they had specific criteria in mind.

They wanted grocery stores and parks nearby, as well as close proximity to friends’ homes.

Easy freeway access was also high on their list, although they knew an area as traffic-choked as Sunset wasn’t going to fit the bill.

And perhaps most importantly, they wanted a safe area where homes had been well-maintained by homeowners who took obvious pride in their surroundings.

After three months spent finding houses they liked in neighborhoods they didn’t, “we realized we were going to have to sacrifice something to get what we wanted,” says Greg.

They found the ideal house in Fairhaven, a cozy bungalow with the architectural details they desired. Its only drawback? It was surrounded by apartments, rather than other single-family homes.

By balancing their wish-list with reality, Greg and Kelsie decided the possibility of occasional neighborly noise wasn’t something that would bother them. The positives far outweighed the potential negatives.

They’ve lived in this house that has proven perfect for them and their plethora of pets for two years now. “We weren’t especially looking for homes in Fairhaven,” admitted Greg, “but now that I live here, I’m glad I do.”

“We got everything we wanted: a cute house, big garage, double lot, and a good price — but it’s surrounded by apartments. If it weren’t, that would have been great, but it would have been out of our price range.”

Before you narrow down your neighborhood aims, jot down your thoughts about what you want and need in your surroundings.

Do you want an urban or suburban feel? How important is commute time to you? Is it important to be able to walk to your favorite coffee shop, movie theatre, or grocery store? Is a bus line readily accessible? Will your children have playmates their age nearby?

Once you have an idea of what’s important to you, you’re ready to move on to the research process.

Begin with statistics. Log on to the Internet or check with your local library to check crime statistics in all the neighborhoods you think you’d like to live in. Bellingham is fortunate, as even the few neighborhoods described as having above average crime rates are reasonably safe.

You’ll also want to examine demographic and lifestyle data. Good schools are an indicator of a healthy community and can affect your property’s resale value. Your real estate agent will also be able to provide details on the different schools in our community.

Of course, the numbers never tell the whole story. No one can give you more insight into a neighborhood than the people who live and work there. Ask friends and co-workers about their experiences. Call the neighborhood representatives on the Mayor’s Advisory Commission. A current list with contact information is available at Members tend to be longtime neighborhood residents who know nearly everybody. City Council members, also listed, can provide information, too.

Then go and experience it for yourself. Go to the areas you think you might like and take a stroll. Strike up a conversation with a friendly face. Visit the neighborhood at different times of day and night, on both weekdays and weekends.

Most importantly, trust your feelings and responses to a neighborhood to find a place to happily call home.


Important points to think about as you narrow down which neighborhood is right for you.

Well-kept, tidy yards indicate a pride of ownership that sustains property values. Keep an eye out for vacant lots; they could be zoned for commercial use.

Know that you’ll feel safe in your new neighborhood. The Bellingham Police Department provides crime statistics on its website at  

Homebuyers with children often pick a school district before they choose a house. Check with the schools in a potential neighborhood and find out how much is spent per child. Ask for test scores, too.

Transportation and Amenities
Bellingham is a town with relatively few traffic headaches, but it’s still helpful to know how long your commute will be. How close is the nearest bus stop? What about parks and recreational facilities? Nearby grocery stores are a blessing.

Property Values
Research recent sales prices for houses in the neighborhood. How much have houses increased in value in recent years? Be sure to find out how much property taxes have increased, as well.

Find out how much utilities cost. Call the water, gas, cable and electric companies for rates. Utilities can add a lot to your monthly household budget.

Traffic and Noise
Drive around the neighborhood at different times of the day and pay attention to the amount of activity. Do you hear loud parties in the wee hours? Do otherwise-empty roads become clogged with cars during commuting hours?

New Development
Watch for new construction in the area. Rapid growth can lead to higher property values — but also traffic tensions.

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