The old adage “location, location, location” couldn’t be more accurate. When you buy a property, you’re buying into a neighbourhood, too. Here are our expert recommendations for finding the perfect neighbourhood for your first home.

START WITH THE FUNDAMENTAL LIFESTYLE QUESTION: CITY OR SUBURBS?

Toronto-based REALTOR® Michael McCann suggests asking yourself upfront, “Are you a suburbanite or urbanite?” Do you want the relative quiet of a planned community in the suburbs, or would you prefer to live in the heart of all the action?

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FIND THE NEXT BIG THING

If you’re not averse to a little bit of calculated risk, explore communities with similar amenities, potential or both. Toronto homeowner Alison Lawler-Dean says up-and-coming areas are a smart bet. “Don’t buy in a good neighbourhood – buy in a neighbourhood on the verge of being good. It makes for a great investment.”

Lawler-Dean’s partner, Max Valiquette recommends searching within a neighbourhood “surrounded” by gentrification. Emerging communities benefit from a spillover effect, and will get there faster than ones in less dynamic areas.

THINK ABOUT DISTANCE

If you have kids or are starting a family soon, consider walking distance and road safety. It’s always a bonus “when kids can walk to school without crossing a main roadway, and parks and playgrounds are within walking distance,” says real estate appraiser Val Jonsson of Winnipeg. Even if your kids are young now, think five years ahead: can you see them walking themselves to school each morning? Yes? That’s a giant check mark.

BUYING OFF THE BLUEPRINT?  LOOK AROUND YOU

Many first-timers choose to save money by buying their first house, townhouse or condo at the pre-build stage. When doing so, survey the surrounding area. The new build that’s closer to additional housing, supermarkets, shops, parks and a community centre is the smarter investment. “Land values might be similar at the beginning stages of a development (within five per cent); however, the resale can be greater for the neighbourhood that has everything within its boundaries,” says Jonsson.

HOUSE-HUNT WHERE YOU SHOP…

…and brunch…and workout. If you spend a lot of time in a specific neighbourhood already, chances are, owning a home in that neighbourhood may be a good fit. “We all strive to make it a little simpler some days. So when you have places to shop, bank, get your haircut and so on within a couple of minutes from home, it’s a great fit,” says Jonsson.

WEIGH ESTABLISHED NEIGHBOURHOODS AGAINST NEW DEVELOPMENTS

McCann’s other upfront question is, “Do you want to live in an established neighbourhood or a new subdivision?” The benefits of the former include a stable community identity and resources, and known real estate values. But if you dive into a new development, you’ll play a more active role in helping to carve out a fresh community vibe – often while saving on your home, too.

GET OUT THERE AND START MEETING PEOPLE

Finally, once you have selected a few potential areas to go house-hunting within, get started on your legwork. “The only way to determine the best neighbourhood for you is to walk the streets,” says McCann. “Talk with the dog walkers, have lunch at the local restaurants, take in a game at the local arena, and in your travels talk to everyone you meet. These will be your new neighbours – who is better to give you the inside scoop on what makes it a great place to live?”

Achieve the homeownership dream sooner