Being part of a community
It is comparatively easy to change your home’s design and features, but it is much harder to change things about the neighbourhood you live in. So it pays to carefully consider the location of your home and whether the type and characteristics of your neighbourhood suit your and your family’s lifestyle.
Know what you want before deciding on a property
It's worth thinking about what you want from a neighbourhood and how you will live there before you make any decisions. That way, there’s more chance you will stay and enjoy living there.
- What will you want nearby – friends, family, schools, shops and other amenities?
- What sort of property do you want to live in (house, townhouse, apartment, etc)?
- How close are the neighbours?
- If it’s an apartment, what rules are there and how well are they managed?
- What type of environment do you want to live in? (rural, semi-rural, suburb, inner-city)
- Is there a lot of noise and does that matter to you?
- What’s already happening there and will it create any problems? (for example, a local business or service, planned development or infill housing)
- How long are you intending to be there and will it meet your needs over that time?
- How far will you be from work?
- How do you plan to travel around?
Before you buy a property, consider how you and others in your household will get to work, school, shops and other facilities you'll visit regularly. If you’re planning to be in the neighbourhood for a while, how will your needs change over time? For example, if you’re planning a family the location of schools might be important in a few years. If you’re planning to retire soon, you might want to be close to family, friends and amenities.
Can you get where you want easily by walking, biking or taking public transport? If not, you may be committing to a daily commute that adds time and money to your costs.
As well as work, schools and shops, consider access to:
- parks and recreational facilities
- health services
- childcare services and playgroups
- community groups
- leisure activities such as movie theatres, cafes, swimming pools and sports facilities
- business services such as photocopiers and office supplies
- place of worship.
What does a location really cost?
Some areas might seem less expensive than others if the up-front property costs are lower. But what you save on the purchase price might be lost in other ongoing additional costs.
As well as mortgage repayments, factor in transport, energy costs, insurance and rates and maintenance costs (eg painting and cleaning) to help you make your decision.
If you live and work in a city, a compact home near the city centre is likely to be cheaper to heat and maintain than a large suburban home. And if it's near public transport you'll save on travel costs and commuting time.
The EECA Energywise website has information about annual fuel costs for different vehicles.
You can find out about public transport from your local or regional council.
Is the neighbourhood designed for people? The design and layout of a neighbourhood can influence how people interact and look out for each other, and how safe it is.
It's worth considering if the neighbourhood:
- is easy to get around on foot or by bike
- has parks, playgrounds and other public spaces where people can meet and kids play
- has local community activities, such as walking groups, sports clubs or arts and crafts. Some of these activities are now managed online and not so obvious, so try a web search as well
- has a mixture of homes, shops and other facilities that will ensure the neighbourhood is active throughout the day and evening?
- seems lively. Are there a lot of people around at most times of the day?
- has a strong 'community' feel. If you're not sure, ask people who live in the area
- has people who seem to take pride in their homes and in the neighbourhood
- has homes hidden behind high fences and garages or carports, or are they oriented towards the street?
- is safe.
The more people look out for each other, and the more lively and active the neighbourhood, the safer it is likely to be.
Safety is also influenced by the way streets, buildings and public areas are designed. For example, areas used by pedestrians should be well lit and visible from nearby homes or shops.
Have a look at the Neighbourhood support website for information on keeping neighbourhoods safe.
Character and 'feel'
Every neighbourhood has a different 'feel', which can be influenced by things such as street layout and the design or age of buildings and public spaces.
It's a good idea to walk around the neighbourhood to see whether you like its atmosphere and the types of homes it offers.
Heritage areas can add interest to a neighbourhood, but may also have special planning requirements that could affect any building or renovation you want to do. Check with your local council.
Trees and plants make streets more attractive, improve air quality, help with stormwater runoff and provide shade in summer. However, bear in mind that many councils have tree protection bylaws for large trees and bush areas, which may constrain any building or renovation.
If the neighbourhood has large berms (usually a grass area between the street and a property), find out who is responsible for maintaining them. Find out from the council what they will allow or require including:
- who is responsible for mowing any grass
- whether there are any restrictions related to the berm (for example, you can’t plant on it)
- who maintains any existing plants or trees on the berm
- who is responsible for any trees interfering with any services going through the berm (power lines, water pipes).
Forms of housing
Apartments, townhouses and detached homes come at different prices, suit different lifestyles and provide different access to facilities. Neighbourhoods with higher-density housing are more compact, which should make them easier to get around.
If you want to have little maintenance and are not keen to have your own outdoor space, an apartment may be the best choice for you. Make sure you are familiar with the body corporate fees and operational rules for your building so you know what is covered by the body corporate and what your own responsibilities are.
Town houses or terraced houses are semi-attached buildings that can be a good compromise and tend to be cheaper than stand-alone homes. They are usually on a cross-lease or unit title (also called strata title), which means you will need to get the agreement of the other owners or the body corporate if you want to make changes to common property or additions or structural changes to your unit that affect other units or common property.
It's worth finding out what types of development are allowed in the neighbourhood. Is its character likely to change, for example through infill housing or commercial or industrial land uses? What restrictions are there on any building you might want to do?
Nuisances, including noise, chemicals and odours
It can be hard to get an accurate impression of the noise levels in a neighbourhood in just one visit. It's worth visiting at different times of the day and night. Listen for traffic noise, dogs, industry, noise from late-night bars or businesses, and any other noises that might bother you as a resident.
Don’t be fooled by the idea that moving to the country will give you peace, quiet and fresh air. There can be a lot of noise from vehicles and animals, at all times of the day and night. Farms, industry, food preparation and processing operations, and other agricultural operations often use sprays that produce odours and also release chemicals into the air.
It's a good idea to check out the prevailing or common wind direction – odours can carry large distances.