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Before Buying a Home, Research the Neighborhood

These days, it doesn't matter whether you're shopping in Manhattan or Monmouth County, N.J., the warm shores of Palm Beach, Fla., or the cold rocky coast of Seaside, Ore., if you're buying, you'll find a real estate deal.

However, it's not enough just to buy a house in a favorable Zip code. Such simplicity may have been fine when sellers had the advantage and could take their time contemplating all of the bids once their properties hit the multiple listing service. Now buyers have the position of strength, which means you can usually afford to take some time to think through your options on a house before signing any deal.

One of the key elements outside of whether the house and the land it sits on are right for you is the neighborhood. You and your family may love the home with its large bedrooms, plentiful storage and park-like vacant land outside your back fence. But when property values go up again, will the owner of that vacant property be inclined to build a condo overlooking your property?

Here are five last-minute considerations before signing that sales agreement.

Walk the Walk: Take a walk around the neighborhood, at two or three different times of day and do so on both a weekday and a weekend. Are people tending to gardens? Are children playing outside? Are neighbors chatting with each other? Those are all good signs.

Are people working on cars parked on the lawn? Do a group of tough-looking kids eye you suspiciously? Is someone's stereo up loud enough for everyone on the street to enjoy? Not so good.

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