Monday, July 2, 2007

Is it in a Safe Neighborhood?

Good fences make good neighbors? Hopefully this blog will do more to build bridges than mend fences. Although sometimes there isn't a fence high enough, if the neighbor is truly a nuisance. We repeatedly advise buyers to spend time in the neighborhood where they want to live. There are a lot of things about a house that you can change as your needs dictate. Location isn't one of them. Learn who your neighbors are before you sign on the dotted line. As for that pesky little question, "is it in a safe neighborhood?" There are lots of websites that provide crime statistics, but only you know what kind of surroundings make you feel comfortable. Only you know you. Even so, you are apt to feel comfortable in different places during different stages in your life. I lived in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco once. It was my last years of college when poverty felt like a badge of honor and the invincibility of youth gave me courage. Later, my first pregnancy sent my bravado packing as my mothering instincts gained ground.

Still that first apartment, filled only with furniture collected off the street and the rare salvation army splurge, had me thinking of my role in the bigger picture. In some ways I was a better person then. I was certainly more sympathetic, or at least more aware concerning the issue of homelessness. Beyond the education brought on by the state of my own meager means, a walk from the Civic Center BART station through Civic Center Plaza was a bit like immersion therapy for the armchair activist. The experience ignited in me the eternal optimism that takes seed easily in the collegiate mind. The homeless have been mostly pushed out of the area now, with only a small presence near Market Street. It's a shame that the problem was shuffled not solved. Back in the day, such open evidence of great need strengthened conviction, and even humble college students wanted to make a difference. A small group of us used to make a weekly foray into the Plaza with a box of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fruit, carrots and surplus cheese. After repeated questions about which religious institution we were affiliated with, we dubbed ourselves, "the Peanut-Butter and Jelly Church." Talk about putting a face on homelessness, I still remember some of the characters we met. (Are you out there Hobo and Red?) I hope they are well, but that renewed mothering instinct has me worried.

Today, I get great satisfaction in helping new buyers into their first home. (Thank you to our clients for the opportunity.) Our office makes annual contributions to places where we think the money might matter. In addition, our agents also make contributions from their earned commissions to the Berkeley Association of Realtors Community Fund. We can go home saying, "I gave at the office." However, every year homelessness fosters old and new faces, and my stage in life has me reconciling a check book and hoping it will truly make a difference.

Buyer Tip: When you're interested in a house, walk the neighborhood. Meet the people that live there and ask questions. Call the non-emergency number for the local police department. They can often put you in contact with the beat officer for the area. Also, check out our previous post (and user comments) on the new Google Street Views.

Seller Tip: Disclose any issue you are aware of that affects your home or neighborhood. Full disclosure buffers your liability and can give a buyer more confidence in the overall transaction. Be specific about the problem, not the individual. If a neighbor is loud enough to be considered a nuisance, describe the noise level and time of day. This is more useful to the buyer (and less offensive to the neighbor) than any attempt to define the individual's character.

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