Guerilla Playborhood Hunting Techniques I: Introduction

The hunt for Playborhoods in Palo Alto and Menlo Park calls for desperate measures...

[NOTE: This the first in a series of four articles on Guerilla Playborhood Hunting Techniques. The second article is about researching neighborhood reputations, the third article is about researching neighbors online, and the fourth article discusses what to look for and do when visiting a neighborhood around a home for sale.]

My wife and I have made “Neighborhood for Kids” – i.e. a Playborhood – our #1 criterion in searching for a home in Palo Alto and Menlo Park. Think about that for a moment. It makes searching for a house extremely difficult, given the information that the real estate industry provides us.

Basically, all that stuff other than price that we see on all the real estate sites and the newspapers is useless to us before we find a house in a neighborhood we like. Architectural style? Whatever. Bedrooms, baths, and square footage? All that may be important, but it’s *secondary*. None of these things can give our kids a good life like a Playborhood can.Think of online dating if your first criterion was looks (nooo, not you!), but there were no photos of prospective mates on the site. You’d waste an awful lot of time going on first dates with people you’re absolutely not attracted to. You know it as soon as you walk in the cafe, but then it’s too late. Another wasted hour…

That’s analogous to what used to happen to my wife and me countless times when we went house hunting over the past two years. We’d go to see houses that have good “locations,” nice photos and the right numbers of bedrooms and baths, only to discover almost every time that the neighborhood would be dead boring for our kids.

So, over these past two years, we’ve gotten smarter by necessity. It’s been painful because we’ve had to invent guerilla Playborhood hunting techniques on our own. In this series of articles, I’ll share our techniques, scrappy and unconventional as they are.

In the meantime, we’ll be providing tools to make it even easier on Playborhood Local sites. The first of these is Neighborhood Reviews (for instance, see the Playborhood Palo Alto / Menlo Park Neighborhood Reviews page. In these Reviews, users can rate a neighborhood around a house for sale from one to five stars, and they can describe the kid population, their frequency of outdoor play, and community among adults there. Unfortunately, it will take some time before we get enough Neighborhood Reviews to make our guerilla househunting techniques obsolete.

So, what are these guerilla househunting techniques that help us to avoid those “worthless first dates?” In the three upcoming articles on this topic, I’ll share three levels of research I use to hunt for Playborhoods, starting with the most superficial: 1) researching neighborhood reputation, 2) searching about neighbors of a home for sale online, and 3) visit the neighborhood and talk to neighbors.

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4 Responses to Guerilla Playborhood Hunting Techniques I: Introduction

  1. Neighborhood Dad says:

    The basic problem is the housing discrimination laws. Our agent told us we could be sued if we say anythng about it being a “nice family neighborhood”. Craigslist gives the same warnings $10,000 fine for anything that might indicate who a house would be ideal for (e.g. Ideal for young kids).

    I believe Los Arobles is the finest “Playborhood” in Palo Alto. There is an open house this weekend at 750 Holly Oak Drive, PA 94303.
    Just check out the street and you will see kids playing outside – also look for chalk drawings in the street. We put up signs to warn traffic of kids playing in the street.

    At the annual block party we have talked about having Thursday afternoons as the official “Go outside and Play Day” to avoid over-scheduling kids with “activities” on Thursdays – so that all the kids are around at the same time. So far this has had mixed success, but hey at least we are working on it with a plan. 🙂

  2. Mike Lanza says:

    I’m totally with you on this. The law is the “Fair Housing Act,” and I’m working to get legislation passed to make an exception for families with kids, so that we can do things like advertise homes that are good for families or even have communities for families like senior communities.

  3. Neighborhood Dad says:

    Mike I certainly support you on this. What is crazy is that the Number ONE factor in driving a home’s price is the School Districts. Agents spend lots of time talking about this – but in reality the school district is somehow a proxy for “Best for kids”. Families are attracted to TOP school districts and that attracts other families who want the best for their kids – sustaining the cycle. However Top Schools translates to a “ranking” of top individula shool School “Scores”. That encourages teachers to pile on more homework, encourages after school “drilling” (SCORE, Kumon, Tutoring, Summer School…) to keep up with peers. Which gets us back to no longer “best for kids” but best for kid’s Scores, and an extreme focus on testing. Which is not how kids have fun OR how we build world class leaders.
    I believe unstructured play is the KEY ingredient to leadership and self-confidence. As unscientific evidence, who leads/motivates the school “the brains” (who had lots of study time) or “the jocks” (who had lots of unstructured play time – before organized sports) – this comming from a nerd by the way.

    So the VERY TOP school scrores may actually be less than top “Kid Expereince Building” (or enjoyment) – in my opinion – see if it resonates with your experience.

    Finally the school districts even elementary school boundaries are way to big a maping tor finding good “playborhoods”. In my opinion a plaborhood can’t be wider than kids can walk/bike to easily ~ 1/4 mile 1/2 mile tops. Being able to talk about this is THE most important “Disclosure” in buying/selling a home, yet the law specificlly bans it.

    It would be great to get some reseach on what forms the “core” of a plaborhood that draws other kids from sourounding areas in and creates critical mass to attract others. In our neighbohood, I think it’s a wide culdesack like corner in Holly Oak, with a tree house (just a plywood board) in the front yard, and parents who are outside on this corner keeping an eye on the toddlers. It’s also a basketball net, and concrete/asphalt circle for scooters, skateboards & bikes. If folks realized how important this is to the value of their homes – think how it would change the “infrastructure” for front yard play.

  4. Mike Lanza says:

    In our survey of Playborhood users at the end of the last year, we had two results that are very relevant to this discussion. First, parents rated “school district” the most important kid-related criterion for choosing their current home, but they also said they had no ability to get information on Playborhood-related factors like the number of children their children’s ages living close to the house or the frequency of children playing outside around there.

    Separately, they said they would be willing to pay a *lot* for a new house identical to their present house in every way except for the fact that the new house has significantly better play opportunities for their children. The entire sample was willing to pay a median of about $50,000, and the Palo Alto / Menlo Park area subset was willing to pay a median of about $100,000. Put these two results together and we see a huge unmet need: people would be willing to pay a *lot* for better play opportunities, but they can’t get the information. Playborhood is aiming to fulfill this unmet need…