How to Choose the Right Neighborhood for You and Your Family

Photo via Freshome Design & Architecture


Where we choose to settle down and plant our roots is just as important as the home in which we cultivate our lives. A happy home is often so because of where the home is physically located. As homebuyers it is therefore equally important to note that not only are you buying a home, but in essence you are buying a part of your neighborhood. 


Photo via Freshome Design & Architecture

Where your home is located is equally as important as your home itself

Whether you are a first time homebuyer or are relocating to another part of the country, it is essential not only to look at the homes for sale but to take a close look at your potential future town and neighborhood. We tend to have these romanticized, pre-conceived notions of just how our perfect home will be and it is therefore imperative to pay attention to everything that surrounds your dream home. 


Photo via Freshome Design & Architecture

Buy with your head as well as your heart

I recently spoke with Betty Shepard, a Realtor with Prudential Fox and Roach in Mount Laurel, New Jersey who told me that “buyers tend to be too emotional when they are shopping for their home. It’s important to look at the purchase of a new home from an investment standpoint.” She states the importance of researching various neighborhoods of interest. “Find out what the housing market is like in your particular area or areas of interest,” Shepard suggests. Take note to see whether a particular area is on a financial incline or decline. With that information gathered a home buyer will be able to assess whether their purchase will turn out to be a good financial investment.


Photo via Freshome Design & Architecture

Take advantage of the internet

Put aside some time to do some research online. Your realtor’s website could be a valuable source of information about your town and all that it has to offer, as well as information on the schools and their performance and ranking in the state. Also be sure to visit your town’s website if there is one. 


Photo via Freshome Design & Architecture

Visit your new neighborhood or town

Take the time to spend some time in the towns of particular interest. Get to know the feel and the lay of the land. This may be harder to do if you are in the midst of a work-related relocation, but if you can, do try to at least walk around the downtown area and drive through the neighborhoods. If you have children with busy weekend schedules, this may be particularly hard to do, but it can also be crucial to finding the areas that offer the best for you and your family. If you can, try out a local restaurant, do some window shopping and talk to the locals to get a sense of what they think makes their town so special. 


Photo via Freshome Design & Architecture

Drive through during different times of the day

Shepard thinks it is particularly important to drive through neighborhoods of interest at various times of the day. The neighborhood is lovely during the quiet afternoon, but is it still quiet and serene during rush hour or at night? “I was researching potential neighborhoods for a client of mine and I decided to drive back to this one particular neighborhood at night and I was surprised at how many trucks were parked on the streets. I knew at that point that my clients and I would have to re-direct our focus,” she told me.


Photo via Freshome Design & Architecture

Make a list

Make a list of what’s important to you. Just as you make a list of what you would like to have in your home, make a list as to what you would like to have in your neighborhood – be sure to note what’s crucial and what you can sacrifice. Do you have a family or do you plan on starting one? Is the school system important to you? If you are a parent you may want to arrange for your child or children to visit the school and to meet with the principal.

Just as neighborhoods differ in personality, no two schools are exactly alike. Will you or your spouse be commuting to work? Do you need to live within a certain proximity to a highway or near a train station? Do you commute to a major city? If you do, is there a limit to your travel time? For those of you who will be commuting whether by car or train, to work, Shepard advises a trial run. Take the time to test out the commute. Will it be doable or will it simply take too long?


Photo via Freshome Design & Architecture

Consider your lifestyle

Another important thing to take into factor is lifestyle. Are you and your family active? Is it important that you are in a neighborhood that is good for walking, running or bike riding? Do you need to be near areas of cultural interest such as museums, universities, restaurants and shopping? How important is it to you that you are near a grocery store, bank and gas station. These might seem like small issues, but to a busy mother of a large family, proximity can be everything. 


Photo via Freshome Design & Architecture

Look all around the outside of your home

Pay attention to your surroundings. “I tell my clients to pay as much attention to the outside of their home as they do to the inside,” says Shepard. “Be sure to ask yourself questions like what is the outside like? What are the neighbor’s properties like? Are the neighbors too close for comfort, or would you like your neighbors to be closer? Pay attention to everything – all the small details.” Often when you are buying a home you are buying into a neighborhood.

If you can, take the time to talk to neighbors. Do they have children? Do you have children? Are these people you can see yourselves getting along with or even becoming friends with? Hopefully, after all the long hours of research and leg-work you will not only find your dream home, but the perfect neighborhood to best suit your interests and your lifestyle. 


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Can You Live a Full Life in 220 Square Feet?

Adjusting mind-sets along with furniture may be the key to happiness for tiny-home dwellers.

Tiny homes pose a dilemma: How can you make a pocket-size space comfortable and stylish? The issue has special relevance in San Francisco right now, as the Board of Supervisors gears up for a November 2012 vote on a proposal to allow the construction of microunits as small as 220 square feet.

Small-space living can be an economical choice, but it’s also a lifestyle choice, says Felice Cohen, who has lived in a 90-square-foot apartment in Manhattan for almost five years. “If you adjust your thinking on what is ‘enough’, you’ll find that you’ll enjoy having the city as your backyard,” she says.

Here, professionals share strategies on how you can live a full life in the tiniest of space. 


Photo: JPDA | Michael Pozner’s East Village Studio | New York

Look for Opportunities to Customize

JPDA Creative Director Darrick Borowski applauds density and supports living on a smaller footprint. “I don’t think the microunits necessarily have to equate to a reduction of living standards,” he says. “It can certainly lead to that, but it doesn’t have to. Although the skeptic in me is concerned how these units will benefit landowners and people with money, another part of me looks at this as an opportunity to create small homes that are bespoke and reflect the way people are living in cities like San Francisco.”


Photo: JPDA | Michael Pozner’s Studio

Borowski points to Michael Pozner’s studio, at almost 500 square feet, is a great example of a space with hardworking multiuse and disappearing furnishings. “His desk space determined so much of the design around it and really reflected the client’s needs,” he says. “He worked there, had meetings there, but its professional function could also disappear, and the space could turn into an entertainment center, a bar for food and drinks.”

These graphics (below) illustrate how Borowski might custom design a 220-square-foot microunit for a client. “We distill our client’s basic functions – the eat, sleep, cook, entertaining graph – into a clear priority set and turn the priorities into space requirements – the second/middle graph,” he says. “The third graph investigates the overlaps and inevitably informs the design.”

Borowski thinks that what’s not shown on the plan is equally important: public or communal space. “The microunits should include a public or communal space allotment,” he says. “For example, they could be in buildings with an interior courtyard or a garden. [The city of San Francisco] can make this work and enable people to really wrap their heads around living in 220 square feet by building units within a three-to five-minute walk to a park. 


Photo: JPDA

Felice Cohen, who has since moved from her 90-square-foot unit into a 500-square-foot apartment just two blocks away from her old home, thinks that microunits and tiny homes in general enable people like herself to achieve their goals.

“Microunit living can actually contribute to a better quality of life if your qualifty of life isn’t rooted in what’s inside your apartment, and if you know that you won’t be in the same space forever. The city was and still is my backyard: I go to shows and meet friends at restaurants instead of staying at home watching TV on the couch,” she says.

Cohen is quick to point out that there isn’t anything wrong with staying home and watching TV, but that microunit living forced her to “find a reason to get up and go,” she says. 

Build Up

Architect, writer and Houzz contributor John Hill has a few years of tiny-space living experience. “I lived in a 200-square-foot efficiency, which means that it didn’t have a separate kitchen; it was located on one wall of the main space. My friends use to say that I could cook breakfast without getting out of bed – which was almost true,” he says.


Hill suggests putting storage up high and keeping closets and other service parts away from the windows of the apartment, to make the space as open as possible. “For 220 square feet, I think a loft bed would work better than something like a sleeper sofa, so the space underneath [the loft] can be used for a desk/study or a TV or a dressing area,” he says. 

Hill, who drew the plans for a 220-square-foot space shown here, says that a rolling ladder is essential for the scenario to work. He added a planter box to the window in the kitchen for growing herbs and other plants, lending the space some indoor greenery and giving the microunit dwellers access to some homegrown food without depending on the availability of a garden rooftop.

Interior designer Leslie Banker designed a tiny bedroom for a client in which the desktop was on a hinge, just like on a ship. “When the client worked, she pulled the desk up, and when the desk wasn’t it use, she folded it down. She has a small stool to sit on when she uses the desktop, so it tucks away easily,” Banker says.

She adds that high ceilings and at least two windows would let in plenty of natural light and give access to a view – preferably an attractive one. “The windows and the view help bring your attention beyond the interior space, which can improve your comfort when living in a tiny, tiny space,” she says.

Think Differently

Not everyone is built for microunit living. Cohen says that living in a tiny space requires a kind of discipline and self-awareness that living in a larger home may not foster. “You have to know your priorities, and you must downsize significantly before making the move,” she says. “But living in a 90-square-foot apartment let me live comfortably, travel, write a book and eventually buy my own apartment in Manhattan – which is something that is really difficult to do nowadays.”

Cohen says that she began and finished packing up her tiny unit on the same day of her big move – just two blocks away from her tiny home. “I remember looking at my upsized 500-square-foot apartment and thinking, ‘Wow, there are all these closets and I don’t have that much stuff.’ The place felt humongous,” she says.


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