Getting the Neighbor Gossip Early
December 7, 2010 7:26 PM   Subscribe

Before putting an offer in on a house, we want to spend some time this week sitting in the neighborhood and talking with neighbors to see what the area is like and start creating some rapport. What questions should we ask the neighbors?

This is our first home purchase, it's half of a duplex. We are in Anchorage, Alaska where everything is currently covered by snow.
posted by rhapsodie to Human Relations (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Was the house a meth lab?
posted by Neekee at 7:56 PM on December 7, 2010

Best answer: I think just be friendly, tell them you're thinking of moving to the neighborhood and wanted to introduce yourselves. My guess is, they will fill in the blanks. Ask them who they are, what they do, and I think you'll learn more about the neighborhood just from people's reactions to that (or lack thereof) than with any pointed questions. But that's just me! YMMV.
posted by Zephyrial at 8:01 PM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would see if the local school system has any PTA meetings, School Board meetings, or the like. I would ask what they like about the schools and the neighborhood and what they don't like. Would they do it all over again? I would ask about crime, animals (barking, free roaming, etc), and weekend activities. Is there a nearby park? Is there a town rec center for cold and snowy or rainy nights? I would ask about local shops, groceries and entertainment such as movie theaters. Are any sketchy?

If you are in half of a duplex, then I would ask every neighbor other than those who live in the other half about the folks in the other half. No matter how great the neighborhood or how great your place or how great of a price you are getting, if the neighbors suck, your life will suck too.
posted by AugustWest at 8:06 PM on December 7, 2010

I assume you're also doing research into the demographics & crime stats etc for the area? Where I live, the real estate websites link to all that kind of info as part of their service.

Having said that, some ideas for questions might be:

- What's the best / worst thing about living in this area?
- What are the neighbours like? Do people get to know each other, or keep to themselves? Are there any community groups or events?
- Do people tend to stick around here for a long time? Or move on quickly?
- Are there any "antisocial elements"? (their idea of what this might mean can be telling in itself, eg "too many god-darned lib'ruls!")
- Do you think this is a good place for raising children? (If that's part of your plan)

Other stuff that people might tell you, or you could investigate for yourself, includes proximity to shops, schools, public transport, parks, swimming pools, hospitals or medical centres.

You can also get a feel for ownership v rental by how "house proud" the places look. I find that nice gardens, especially, are very telling, but maybe not so easy to judge if everything's covered in snow. Look out for signs of vandalism or decrepit or unkempt houses, too, although this doesn't necessarily mean they're full of meth-heads. Renters don't have much motivation to improve houses or gardens, so this can indicate a more "transient" population, with fewer social ties & less community spirit.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:16 PM on December 7, 2010

I don't know if you guys do real estate transactions differently than what we do here in NYC, but I would first of all... not wait a week! I would get the bidding process started and then take the week to sign the contract (while still being the first bidder). You may take the week and do recon, only to find that when you go to submit your offer, someone beat you to the punch.

Just so you know, in NYC, offers are not binding. You can bid, get an accepted offer and even get a contract out before you are required to do anything. You can walk away at any time until you sign the contract. In other places, that is not the case, so only heed my advice if you can walk away from the deal after making an offer.
posted by darkgroove at 8:17 PM on December 7, 2010

"Any families have any teenagers around here?"
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:34 PM on December 7, 2010

Ask who owns dogs and if they're loud.
posted by Blake at 4:03 AM on December 8, 2010

Ask each neighbor if there are any problem neighbors. If there are local police it might be worth a visit, a helpful cop might tip you off to frequent reports, don't think crime so much as disputes or mental illness.
posted by InkaLomax at 5:27 AM on December 8, 2010

Best answer: If the other homes in the area are also duplexes, I'd ask how well they can hear the neighbors they share a wall with.
posted by something something at 7:09 AM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ask the sellers why they are moving. (Ask them what they liked, what they didn't like, etc. This might make them uncomfortable, but I think it is worth it. The answer might be the opposite of reality: if they are completely honest and tell you that the Wilsons down the street are noisy, they are probably less noisy than you think. If they get nervous and tell you everything is awesome, maybe it isn't.)

Go to the local stores and ask the managers to tell you about the place.

Ask the local police to tell you what's up. (I did this when opening up a store- had a meeting with the police chief and just had him lay out the good and the bad. Helped tremendously.)

(Usually, bids are non-binding until you sign a contract for sale. But even that is non-binding, to the extent it will have some kind of walk-away clause. Forfeiting the earnest money, for example. This is still a bargain, because even if you lose $1000, it is far less than it would cost to buy a property you don't really want.)

But also, past performance isn't an indicator of future performance. A neighborhood could have a bad reputation because of the people you are replacing. Or a good reputation that gets ruined 6 months from now because some miscreants move in then. Due dilligence is good, but it's always a gamble.
posted by gjc at 7:41 AM on December 8, 2010

Walk around at night.
posted by WeekendJen at 1:54 PM on December 8, 2010

If you find anyone who's been there a long time, ask if they know anything about the history of the house. I've found out all kinds of things about ours from the neighbor which would have saved us a lot of trouble had we known them before we bought.
posted by sepviva at 4:24 PM on December 8, 2010

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