Guerilla Playborhood Hunting Techniques III: Research Neighbors Online

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

Because driving to a house for sale and nosing around there takes a lot of time, I search publicly available online information on close neighbors first to get some indication of whether kids my kids’ ages might be living there. After all, from kids’ point of view, preschoolers in particular, next-door neighbors are by far the most important, so if I can find that at least one kid my kids’ ages lives next-door, that makes it likely that I’ll spend the time to visit the house and neighborhood to get more information.

I use Zillow.com's parcel maps to get the addresses of neighbors close to the house for sale.

Be forewarned: the methods I describe here seem invasive, but I’m only searching for publicly available information, and I’m doing it for a noble cause – to find neighborhood playmates for my kids.

So here’s what I do:

  • I enter the address on Zillow.com to see the addresses of the neighboring lots.
  • I go to Intelius.com and buy “property reports” on some neighboring lots, usually just the next-door neighbor lots. These reports cost $15 each, but Intelius offers steep volume discounts if you call them and ask. The property reports can give me four very useful pieces of information: 1) the date of the last sale, 2) the name of the present owner(s), 3) the name of the present occupant(s), and 4) the age of the present occupant(s). If 2) and 3) are different, that indicates that the occupant is a renter, and is less likely to stay in that house long term.
  • I do a web search on the names I get in 3), or 2) if 3) is not available. On rare occasions, this web search will result in a hit that indicates that the person is a parent (e.g. that person is on the PTA page for XYZ Elementary School). Often, though, if you get hits, one of them might help you guess that person’s age (e.g. a LinkedIn profile for that person listing age of graduation from college in 1993).

Of course, 4) is a direct way to get the occupant’s age, but it’s often not available. Age of occupant is a decent indicator of whether children of a particular age live there. There are no rules, but, for instance, a woman of 45 is unlikely to have a baby living with her, but in certain areas she’s fairly likely to have an older elementary, middle school, or high school student living with her.

4) and 1) together can serve as a fairly strong indication that kids live in the house. For instance, if the house has an occupant male and/or female about 35, and they just bought the house three years ago, you can almost bet that at least one preschooler lives there.

Lastly, 1) by itself is an indication of how old kids are, if they do indeed live there. For instance, someone who bought a house in 1990 is unlikely to have pre-schoolers, but they may well have high schoolers. Conversely, someone who bought in 2004 may very well have pre-schoolers, but they’re much less likely to have high schoolers.

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