[NOTE: This the last 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 third describes how I research online information about neighbors of a house for sale.]
If the larger neighborhood reputation and my online searching give me a pretty decent feeling about the immediate neighborhood around a house, I’ll visit there to look around and talk to neighbors. After all, for getting a feeling for a neighborhood, there’s no substitute for talking to neighbors in person and seeing what they actually do.
I’ve found that the best time to go – i.e. the best time to see kids play outside – is late afternoon, between 4 and 5:30, any day. I’ll go earlier during the winter, when the sun goes down early, and perhaps a bit later during the longest and hottest days of summer. Nothing is a better indicator of the potential of your kids playing in a neighborhood than seeing kids your kids’ ages playing there when you visit. So, as soon as I see this, without looking any further, the house becomes a candidate for purchase.
Before talking to anyone, I look *very* closely for evidence of kids as I drive the street. I look for kid stuff in front yards, driveways, and front porches. Note that what you see in this inspection is not only an indication of the number and ages of kids, but it’s also an indication of the extent to which the kids who live there play outside in front of their houses (as opposed to inside or in private backyards).
I also look for family cars like SUVs and minivans, and I try to see car seats in the back of all cars, but particularly those.
If I see zero evidence of kids around the house for sale, I often just leave (life’s too short…), but if I have reason to believe that kids live there, I’ll try to strike up a conversation with *anyone* who’s outside, preferably one who has a kid around. If no one happens to be outside (not a good sign…), I’ll go to the house of the closest neighbor that has some sign of kids in its yard and ring the doorbell.
Once I get a neighbor’s attention, I say something like the following, “Hi. My wife and I are interested in buying that house over there, and it’s very important to us that our kids – two boys, 3-1/2 and 5 months – play with other kids outside in the neighborhood wherever we move. Can you tell me if there are other kids around here those ages?”
If the person is reluctant to answer, that’s a bad sign. I’m interested in moving into a neighborhood with friendly people who want neighbors like me.
Once the person starts answering, if he or she is friendly and forthcoming, I try to get as much information the kid population as possible (with some people, it takes a couple of tries to get all the info), and then I ask whether they play outside with other kids.
Of course, as the neighbor tells me things, I tell him or her about my family and why that neighborhood might be a fit for us. The person should know that I have a sincere interest in the home and the neighborhood, and that I’m an enthusiastic, friendly neighbor looking for an enthusiastic, friendly neighborhood. In other words, this conversation is also an opportunity to see if I connect with that neighbor.
If I find out there are lots of kids my kids’ ages living there, I’m interested. If I find that the kids who are there play a lot outside, I’m also interested. If both of these facts are true – i.e. lots of kids my kids’ ages play outside there, I’m very interested, but either one of these alone might be good enough. You should realize that when you move in, you’ll be able to change the complexion of the neighborhood.
If, after all this research, the neighborhood meets my minimum standard (for me, the number of kids my kids’ ages is primary, then outdoor play is a close second), I’ll try to get inside to see the house. However, I never walk in to see 90% of the houses whose neighborhoods I visit to check out.
Of course, all this “Guerilla Playborhood Hunting” is very time consuming. It’s unfortunate that it is, but the real estate market is failing those of us who make neighborhood for kids our #1 priority. Neighborhood Reviews is Playborhood’s first step in making this easier. Stay tuned…