House-Hunting Homework

16 07 2007

Before buying a house in Bethesda last month, Susan Fiorella tapped away on her keyboard. She researched schools. She checked crime statistics. She even solicited opinions about neighborhoods from an e-mail group for urban moms and dads.

“A lot of people don’t need to be as rigorous to develop this kind of comfort level,” said Fiorella, a strategist for a health-care provider and the mother of two young children. “We did exhaustive research; that’s our personality.”

Starting Points

For those researching a neighborhood, here are some Web sites of general interest:

  • Information on sex offenders: Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Registry provides names, addresses and photos of registered sex offenders;
  • Public transportation: Metro provides locations and schedules of buses and subways in the D.C. area;
  • Schools: Newsweek’s list of top 1,300 high schools is at Under Education, scroll down to America’s Top Public High Schools.

A Web of Neighborhood Information

This is a sampling of official local Web sites with details on individual communities. Most counties and cities make similar resources available online.

Public transit bus systems

Public schools

Crime mapping

SOURCE: The Washington Post; ILLUSTRATION: Wesley Bedrosian – For The Washington Post




In an era when Googling has become a national pastime, schools, police departments, businesses and governments are making it easier to research neighborhoods, lessening the chances of buyer’s remorse.

Many school Web sites, for example, post test scores and write about special offerings such as magnet programs. Some police departments provide statistics on crime in specific areas. Some county governments post locations of parks and neighborhood master plans. A U.S. government Web site even pinpoints locations of sex offenders, down to a specific block.

“I recommend to all my purchasers: Familiarize yourself with the neighborhood before you write the offer,” said Judi Seiden, an associate broker for Prudential Carruthers Realtors on Capitol Hill.

Said Joel Abalos, an agent at Keller Williams Realty of Fairfax Gateway in Fairfax: “You don’t want to sell a house to somebody and two weeks after closing they find out there’s a rapist next door.”

In the BTI era — Before the Internet — would-be buyers or their real estate agents often ran around to gather information packets from schools, libraries and government offices. The Web has changed that.

“It’s made it much easier,” said Robyn Burdett, an agent with Re/Max Allegiance in Fairfax. “It’s taken away a lot of the legwork, and I want to say the unknown is gone.”

She said, “Just going to the Metro Web site, my client can figure out the bus schedule for the park-and-ride and how they all connect and how long they take.”

Still, when a Web site won’t quite satisfy, she recommends finding out the old-fashioned way. To find out more about a school, for example, she sometimes suggests that clients talk with the principal or call another parent to ask questions.

“I’ve also had clients walk their kids through the school,” she said.

One of her clients, Jason Lynch, an ecologist with the Environmental Protection Agency, is living with relatives in the Washington area while he researches homes and neighborhoods. In the meantime, his wife and two daughters, ages 4 and 7, are back home in Illinois.

By Allan Lengel

Washington Post Staff Writer




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