Five ways to pick the perfect neighborhood

If you are addicted to watching old “Friends” reruns (not that I am, or anything) you might expect that all your new neighbors will become instant buddies who will help you through life’s traumas and eventually fall in love with you.

In real life, we are lucky when our neighbors are quiet and don’t do calisthenics in the nude in front of the window. (Maybe I’m the only one who sees Ugly Naked Guy as a negative.)

But how can you find out more about your future neighborhood before you sign a contract?

Before we bought our first house, I wanted to know if there were children around who would play with my kids. Maybe you just want to know if you’ll be surrounded by barking dogs.

There are plenty of ways to find out more, however.

  1. Check out Dream Town’s own deep stash of neighborhood info at the Chicago Neighborhoods Guide.  Even when I worked for another company, Dream Town was my go-to website for Chicago neighborhood intel. Click on Lincoln Square, for example, and you’ll find out that the area used to be home to celery farms, and was then settled by German immigrants, whose cuisine is still found at several area restaurants. It describes housing types and lists schools, restaurants and much more.
  2. Get census-type information through the Census Bureau’s FactFinder2 site.
  3. Find crime data from the Chicago Police Department at By the way, a former great resource,, has closed up shop.
  4. I suggest you pick your neighborhood first, then the property. Particularly when properties are selling as fast as they are right now, you will not have time to leisurely stroll the neighborhood at all hours of the day and night to see if that 24-hour diner is causing a problem at 3 a.m.  As an example, if you love the Bloomingdale Trail, aka “The 606,” you may ride your bike around the streets and pick out your favorite block. When a home becomes available near there, you will have already done your research.
  5. Drop in at some nearby business (like Central Perk) when they are not busy, and see if the proprietor or another customer will tell you what they like about the area.

One note: Realtors are prohibited by the Fair Housing Act of 1968 from answering questions about neighborhood residents. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, racial steering and blockbusting caused rapid racial changes in many neighborhoods, especially in Chicago. A phenomenon that became known as “white flight” got national attention in 1962 when the Saturday Evening Post ran an article called “Confessions of a Blockbuster.”

Many of today’s first-time buyers have little knowledge of how our nation’s racial troubles impacted the home buying process several generations ago.  But even today, real estate agents who engage in steering can lose their license or be prosecuted, so typically they won’t say anything that could even remotely be construed as discussing the population of a neighborhood.

Your agent can help with a lot of things, but deciding if you like a neighborhood is pretty much up to you.

And far as those barking dogs are concerned, if dogs are permitted by the condo association, there may be a dog or two.

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