Question: I'm relocating to another city and don't know what area to consider. How can I tell whether a neighborhood is convenient? Safe? Close to what I want to do?
Answer: Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, checking out a new stamping ground is easier than ever before.
In fact, more than 70% of renters start their apartment search in front of their computers, according to a recently released report from the National Multi Housing Council. When looking for advertised rentals, check out one of the many free national sites. Local rental sites are available for no charge through some management companies; for-fee sites also abound.
But what neighborhood should you consider? If you're moving from far away, looking at a "For Rent" ad won't tell you much when it comes to neighborhood details.
Start by pinpointing possible neighborhoods that fit your needs by asking friends, colleagues or co-workers who know the area. Also make a list of your location must-haves in priority order, such as convenient commuter routes and places to shop, dine or find entertainment.
An amazing tool for doing research is earth.google.com. Once downloaded from the Internet and onto your computer, for no charge you have a satellite view of the world. Views can be as close as 300 feet from above, and with a scroll of the mouse can be brought into sharper focus. Using a street address is best, so gather a few choices first.
When looking for community details, don't overlook the Census Bureau at www.census.gov. The "American FactFinder" option offers a vast array of information, including housing type, density and economic and household details.
The search can be based on any address, ZIP Code, city, county or state.
How are you planning to get to work or school? Maps that pinpoint and provide directions between locations can be found through a number of sites, including maps.google.com, www.mapquest.com, as well as maps.yahoo.com.
Want to look into public transportation? Most such transit options are detailed on the mapping sites. For specific routes and information covering the Greater Los Angeles area, go to www.metro.net, which details 200 bus and rail lines.
Map sites also offer links to many area offerings. Restaurants, shops and even religious institutions can be found under the business listing option. The choices are astounding, but not all listings represent every offering, since some pay for placement. Selected choices offer a distance range from 90 miles away to as close as 2,500 feet from your prospective front door.
What about personal safety? In California, registered sex offenders can be tracked at www.meganslaw.ca.gov. For details regarding other state registry sites, access www.klaaskids.org for links.
Information about burglary, car theft and other crimes in a particular area is usually available through the local police or sheriff's office. In L.A., a good resource is www.lapdonline.org, which has detailed crime maps and offers information by street address and ZIP Code.
What about local schools? In California, all schools must participate in a statewide student testing program. The site star.cde.ca.gov details standardized test scores and other information provided by the California Department of Education. Local schools often have individual websites too.
Any special hobbies or interests that appeal to you? Check out local community colleges for evening or weekend programs.
Enjoy shopping at farmers markets? Stroll through www.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets for directions. Like to garden? Some areas have communal growing space. Dig through www.localharvest.org for details and how to obtain organic foods through various sources.
Keep in mind that although using the Internet is no substitute for visiting the real thing, it does help kick off an informed search for a place to call home.
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