Posted Mar 7, 2012

Location, Location, Location: How to Choose a Neighborhood

While you might be really busy putting together your list of deal-breakers and figuring out how much you can afford, one of the most important decisions you’ll have to make is where you want to live. Yes, there’s a reason for that old realtor axiom about location: it does end up being the most important thing in how much you enjoy where you live, especially in a city.

So what should you consider about potential neighborhoods?

Commute Time: Whether you’re driving to the South Bay, taking BART to Oakland, or biking downtown, this is possibly the most important consideration. First, decide what mode of transportation you’d like to/need to use. When I first moved to the city, I had a job in the South Bay. I lived in SoMa for a year, commuting by Caltrain. While my commute was better than it would be when I moved to Pacific Heights and had to buy a car, I ultimately chose less rent and living in a more cozy neighborhood over a more convenient commute. Now that I commute to downtown, I have more options for neighborhood as I just need to be by a Muni line and a bike route. But for those going to the South Bay, the southern part of the city (the Mission, Noe Valley, Glen Park, Bernal) is obviously more popular as it cuts out the worst part of the commute – trying to get back into the city on 101 in the evening. SoMa and Potrero are popular for those who can take the train to the office, and while Caltrain is not cheap, I always greatly preferred it over having a car payment and sitting in traffic. BART access is key for those working in the East Bay, and while BART is seemingly by far the best transit option in the Bay Area, you’ll have to choose a fairly central neighborhood to get easy access.

Walkability: I know few people who say they actually enjoy driving in the city, so being able to walk or bike to run errands or go out is really important in a city. Most people know about walkscore.com, which gives an indexed score of walkability and is included in listings on Lovely. The main perk of living in the city is having “stuff” at your fingertips – corner stores, bars, restaurants, etc. While living up a the top of the hill with a view of downtown might be beautiful, it probably won’t feed your late-night ice cream cravings like a spot closer to commercial corridor.

Crime: Crime and safety are two things that city dwellers may feel the need to brush off, but the key here is finding a place you feel comfortable in. Whether it’s “quality of life” issues like homelessness, graffiti, or theft, or hard crime with violence, the SFPD tracks all of it at crime maps. Don’t necessarily be dissuaded by crime stats, but make sure you feel confident in the neighborhood at all your usual times – whether you work a late shift, get up early to run, or are a party animal.

Weather: A sunny disposition can sometimes depend on sunny weather. The many microclimates in SF mean that you’ll never be far from different weather, but if you want to wake up with fog or sun most mornings, you’ll have to plan accordingly. Sunny neighborhoods do seem to be a little pricier, but we think that there’s something very moody and sexy about the fog out West — and most Sunset or Richmond-dwellers will tell you it’s “not really that foggy.”  Again, try before you commit and talk to folks who have lived in the neighborhood year-round to understand anything special about the weather.

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