Advice and Opinion

Why a neighborhood is as important as the home you buy

Do you value peace and quiet above all else, or does the convenience of amenities right on your doorstep ring your bell? Finding your dream home may be exhilarating, but realtors have uttered the mantra “location, location, location” for decades with good reason. The location of a property isn’t only important in terms of return on investment down the line; it also has to tick your current lifestyle boxes if you don’t want your dream quickly turning into a living nightmare.

It’s very seldom that anyone searching for a new home falls in love with the first property they see, so when you do finally find that perfect space, succumbing to the emotional attachment can cloud your judgement and result in a costly mistake.

So says Sandy Geffen, Executive Director of Sotheby’s International Realty South Africa, who adds: “It’s important to remember that buying a home is a long term financial investment as well as an emotional one and in order to realise solid returns on both, it’s essential to equally assess the property as well as the area in which it’s situated”.

“Realtors place location ahead of all other considerations for good reason; where your home is situated will determine not only the future value of your investment, but will also impact many aspects of your everyday life in years to come because you are buying a lifestyle as well as bricks and mortar. And the wrong lifestyle choice at the outset could spell endless misery down the line.”

Geffen points out that while the physical elements of a property can easily be changed, the same cannot be said for the culture of a neighbourhood and, chances are you will never truly love your house if you don’t like your neighbourhood.

“Before you start trawling the internet and phoning agents, take the time to do some research and find out as much as you can about the suburbs in which you will be viewing homes.”

Think about what your current community is lacking – if there is something that you have always felt was missing that would make a difference to your life, put it at the top of your list;

Think about what you don’t want in a neighbourhood – late night noise is a great example; if you want peace and quiet it’s probably best to steer clear of colleges or areas with a lively bar scene or highways;

Municipal rates and taxes – these often vary considerably between suburbs and can significantly impact your monthly budget. Bear in mind, though, this also affects the level of services and amenities an area receives;

Lifestyle and activities – do you regularly play tennis or golf, do your children need access to a library or sports facilities? Pet owners should consider the proximity of pet-friendly parks while a young single person would benefit from nearby bars or restaurants;

Convenience – don’t underestimate the affect of regular inconvenience on your happiness – and the impact your wallet. Is there a shopping centre nearby where you can accomplish several errands at once or do you have to drive to multiple destinations to fill a prescription, buy groceries and have your jacket dry-cleaned?

Future plans – it’s always a good idea to check with local planning office if there are any projects in the pipeline for your area or you could find that a year down the line your tranquil neighbourhood has become a construction zone of subdivision and densifications or home to a new school across the road;

Crime rate – this is not always as obvious as one might think and should always be taken into account. Stats are available at and your estate agent should also be able to advise you. If you’re on the fence between two suburbs, but one has a lower crime rate, knowing this information might make your decision easier.

Sue Hall, Area Specialist for Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty in River Club and Duxberry, advises that buyers who are unfamiliar with an area should take the time to drive through the suburb, preferably during the day and in the evening.

“Pay attention to the general cleanliness and the state of the pavements and the facades of nearby homes as this says a lot about a community”.

“It will also help you to assess noise levels as you may discover that there is, in fact, a railway line just a block away or that the quiet restaurant down the road attracts noisy revellers at night.”

Agents across the board agree that there are common location concerns shared by most buyers and topping the list are security and convenience, especially proximity to schools, places of worship and general amenities.

However, in large metros like Johannesburg where transformation, densification and diversity are the watchwords and adjacent suburbs can literally be chalk and cheese, one cannot assume that a nearby neighbourhood will automatically suit your lifestyle and needs just because of its proximity.

Justine Roux, Area Specialist for Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty in Atholl, Illovo and Inanda says: “Over and above the obvious, the degree of concern about a home’s location and buyers’ key priorities can differ significantly from area to area”.

“For instance, the majority our clients are established and successful professionals who work long hours, and in a city known for its traffic congestion, the commuting time to their place of work as well as ease of access to major roads is important”.

“They are also more concerned about noise levels, privacy and security and one of the biggest deterrents to signing on the dotted line is an adjacent tract of open land which is perceived as a high security risk”.

“And we are regularly asked about the immediate neighbours and whether the current owners have experienced any problems or disagreements.”

According to Hall, buyers with young children are increasingly drawn to suburbs like River Club because of their traditional suburban atmosphere and close sense of community.

“People here want to feel safe when out and about doing things like riding bikes and walking their dogs.”

Marc Maron, Area Specialists for Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty in Waverley, Oaklands and Norwood says that he always encourages buyers to look beyond the house and to feel free to ask questions to regardless of how irrelevant they may seem.

“An informed buyer is a savvy investor and far less likely to make an impulse purchase or be taken in by unrealistic ‘bargains’ like a mansion at rock bottom price – because it’s in a dubious area that is showing no signs of rejuvenation”.

“Unless you are bidding in an auction of repossessed property and pay a fraction of the market value, buying twice the house at half the price in a rundown suburb with no kerb appeal will offer short term benefits at best –  unless you are adept at flipping at minimum additional investment.”

Kobus Venter, fellow Sales Agent to Maron adds: “There is no longer any excuse for ignorance as buyers have access to unlimited information; both from experienced agents with in-depth knowledge of their areas and online where any information shortfall can easily be accessed.”

He adds that buying the worst house in the best area you can afford is almost always the better long term investment.

“Even modest upgrades and improvements made over time are likely to significantly increase the value of your home and ultimately the return on investment.”

Geffen concludes: “While it’s true that it’s essential that the home to which you return every day is an inviting and happy haven, your suburb’s character will influence your family’s character over time”.

“And, when you look back years from now, you want to be able to nostalgically remember summer barbeques in the garden and happy days in the park instead of stressful hours commuting or sleepless nights due to unanticipated neighbours. At the end of the day, when you fall in love with a home you want to love living in it, so a little due diligence will go a long way.”