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Location, location, location (repeat)

How to balance your neighborhood preferences
with the realities of your budget

By Laura Depta
CTW Features

It is relatively simple to find the average rental costs or home values for a given city, but choosing a specific home location might prove more difficult. Most urban areas are full of different neighborhoods, the features and costs of which can vary greatly.

Just as Montana and Florida are separate parts of the whole that is the United States, Georgetown and Eckington are two drastically different areas inside Washington, D.C. Not only does each neighborhood come with its own characteristics, but housing costs also vary.

According to the 2015 National Rent Report from Apartment List, a San Francisco-based apartment rental company, the median monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Washington, D.C., is $2,800. Yet, according to more specific neighborhood data provided by Apartment List (from August 2014), the median cost in Georgetown is $3,680, while the corresponding number in Eckington is $2,170.

The variance in housing costs can be explained by a variety of factors, not just in Washington, D.C., but across the country.

In Chicago, for instance, proximity to the downtown Loop is key. Maurice Ortiz, director of operations at rental and ownership company Apartment People, explains, “If you were comparing Rogers Park, which would be the furthest neighborhood to the north, versus River North, which is literally steps from downtown, you can be easily paying double what the rents are.”

Ortiz also references “walk scores,” which he describes as encompassing proximity to entertainment, gyms, grocery stores, restaurants and local attractions. “Chicago has so many great things to offer,” he says. “And the more of those that you can access dictate what the rents will be in a given area.”

Of course, regardless of city, neighborhood desirability varies based on individual preference. Still, there are some factors that tend to be more influential than others.

Andrew Woo, manager of data science at Apartment List, points out four San Francisco neighborhood characteristics he believes most significant (other than cost) to those looking for housing. He cites crime and safety, access to amenities like parks and restaurants, quality of schools and commute time.

“Depending on how you get to work and the public transportation routes, even if you’re only two to three miles away, it can take 30 to 45 minutes to get to work,” Woo says. “So that’s something people keep in mind.”

Woo names the Mission and SoMa as up-and-coming San Francisco neighborhoods. “SoMa is increasingly popular because a lot of people work there in tech, and there’s a lot of newer, relatively expensive but nicer apartment buildings that have amenities, like in-unit washer and dryer, that older parts of the city might not have,” he offers.

Of course, not everyone can afford his or her ideal neighborhood. In that case, there are several possible courses of action.

“Sometimes it’s as easy as maybe opening up your options, Ortiz says. “Let’s say you’re coming in looking for a one-bedroom for $1,000, and there’s just nothing in your price range, would you consider a studio? You won’t have the space that you would with a one-bedroom, but you’ll be exactly where you want to be.”

There could also be cheaper alternatives to a desired neighborhood. In Chicago, for instance, the Logan Square neighborhood is becoming more popular for its similarities to Bucktown and Wicker Park along with its relative affordability.

Again, no one person is going to have the same set of personal and professional circumstances, and his or her desired qualities in a neighbored will surely vary. The key is to understand exactly how areas vary, and how those differences will affect your bottom line, when choosing your next home.

© CTW Features

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