Mark Nash, Courtesy of Homefinder.com
• Drive through a neighborhood or community at different times of the day or evening. During early morning hours, you'll be able to observe how efficiently residents get to work and students get to school. During the daytime, you'll also see how properties, including alleys, are maintained. An evening or night visit will allow you to discover rush-hour traffic density and traffic noise, street parking availability and how well streets are lit to ensure safety.
• Walk or ride your bicycle through the neighborhood to get a closer look at public places such as schools, playgrounds and parks.
• Talk to local shop and business owners. They may offer a different perspective about the area than homeowners and could give you some insight into plans for commercial development.
• Depending on whether you enjoy nightlife or if you're an early bird, check your future neighborhood for opening and closing times of coffee shops, restaurants and essential amenity providers, such as supermarkets and drugstores. Run every-day errands to learn how close to each other service providers in the area are located. Is parking convenient?
• Attend school and local board or council meetings to learn about issues in the community. Stop by the alderman's office or local town hall to inquire about garbage collection and water rates, any watering bans, recycling centers, street cleaning and snow regulations. Will you need a permit parking, village or city sticker?
• Visit the nearest hospital to ensure their quality and proximity in case of an emergency. It also doesn't hurt to look for local medical centers for non -emergency medical care before you move into a new area.
• Assess the convenience and availability of public transportation. With today's high fuel costs, hopping a train or bus to work may be a better option for you. Pick up bus and train schedules and locate taxi stands in case you will need them.
• Surf the Web for community-related sites and message boards where local residents may sound off on local projects, ordinances, proposed property- or sales-tax increases and redevelopment plans.
• Check with the local police about crime statistics and neighborhood watch groups. Most states post online the names and addresses of convicted sex offenders, who may live in your prospective area.
• If you love team sports or want to make new friends, check if the local park district offers some interesting programs and activities -- or the driving range you've always wanted close to home. And visit the local library to see if its collection suits your family's needs.