A Community's Character
Communities have personalities just like people do. Choosing a hometown is a little like choosing a mate or a friend. The personality you choose doesn't have to be exactly like yours, just as long as it's compatible with yours.
Look carefully at the town you are considering. Do you want lots going on in your neighborhood or a simple, quiet area?
Would it bother you to know that 20 percent of your community's population changes each year because of company transfers? In a community where a lot of people move in and out regularly, it may be hard on you (or your children) if your new friends are likely to leave soon.
How about your hobbies and interests? Is there a spot for fishing? Is there an arts group or a little theater troupe? If religion is important to you, how far will you have to travel to attend the services of your choice? Is there an active congregation of like faith in the community? Do you enjoy eating out? Are there enough good restaurants?
Look into hospitals, too. This is especially important if you have a chronic illness or small children and are more likely to go to the emergency room than most people.
It can be difficult to assess the character of a town that is more than, say, 40 miles from where you live currently. It is especially tough when you are planning a long-distance relocation. Get a short-term subscription to two of the local papers in the area you're moving to. One might be the big daily and the other a smaller, weekly publication. You could also look for the area's local news website — many papers are featured online. There you will see what residents are talking about, and what they're complaining about.
An excellent way to evaluate community character is to head for the planning or zoning board office, usually located in the town hall. Request the town's master plan and spend a few minutes studying it. Although the information is free and readily available, few homebuyers actually look for it. On that map, you will see all the current streets with their zoning indicated, as well as proposed zoning and development. Future highways, open spaces, and the potential for high-density housing or commercial development will be apparent to you within a few minutes of study. Keep in mind, though, that zoning can be changed; do not assume that every line on the master plan is carved in stone.
Once you have narrowed down your choice of towns to just a few, visit the library of each one. Tell the reference librarian that you are considering buying a home in town and would like some information on the community. The library may have a community profile that has been prepared by the League of Women Voters, the town's chamber of commerce, or some other civic group. It will usually have material on local history and community activities, too.
As you visit communities you are considering, use the questions in Worksheet 11.1 to rate them between one and five on how well the following aspects of each town meet your personal needs and goals. You can then compare towns by totals or one factor across the board (for example, schools).
Worksheet 11.1 Town Comparison Worksheet