“Every morning at 4 a.m. a low—and very, very loud—jetliner arriving from China roars overhead my house,” says Murray Suid, who lives in Inverness, CA. He wouldn’t go so far as to say he would have backed away from buying his home if he’d known this in advance, but he has come to a firm conclusion: “Different times of day really change the reality of a home.”
The neighborhood might feel charming and laid-back during a warm Saturday morning open house, but what is it like when you’re driving to work? Or waiting for Sunday church traffic to clear out?
That’s why David Feldberg, broker/owner of Coastal Real Estate Group in Newport Beach, CA, advises his clients to spend some time at their would-be house at all hours of the day and night to find out what it would really be like to live in the neighborhood.
Let’s check out some of the times during the day and night buyers might want to visit a home they like, paying extra attention to local goings-on.
8 a.m.: Is your commute a slog?
“It’s just 10 miles to work as the crow flies,” Lea Jacobson heard about a home she had her eye on in Portland, OR. But Jacobson was skeptical.
“I am not a crow; I don’t fly,” she says. So she decided to see for herself by driving around the area at rush hour. While her commute ended up being doable, she definitely recommends doing the test drive. Track the actual time it takes to commute from your driveway to your office to determine how long those red lights are and how bad the backup is on the on ramp—and if you can stand it. If you’re planning to take public transportation, give that a try, too.
10 a.m.: Do you hear what I hear?
Glenda Cook of San Antonio gets literally rattled by noise coming from the quarry a mile from her house.
“I wish I had known how badly it would shake my house when they detonate rock in the middle of the day. The home builder never said a word during the buying process, and it still startles me when I’m working in my office.”
Sussing out crazy noise from construction, traffic, or barking dogs isn’t the only reason to visit your home midday.
“I would also drive my street on a weekday and see how many people have cars in their driveway. Are there other neighbors around, or does it look like a ghost town?” Feldberg says. For safety’s sake, it’s nice to know that neighbors might be keeping an eye on your house if you’re at work all day, and maybe even accepting your UPS shipments.
3 p.m.: School’s out
Is the home near a school? If so, you might want to hang out and see if the schoolchildren are going to be cutting through your yard and trampling your flowers—or if the traffic is so busy you don’t feel comfortable having your own kids walk home.
5:30 p.m.: Happy hour or sad hour?
Now’s the time to check for traffic returning home—yours and everyone else’s. If you are envisioning sitting outside relaxing with a glass of lemonade watching your kids ride bikes, you don’t want to find out too late that Waze is redirecting traffic through your quiet neighborhood. And, adds Feldberg, you can check to see if other kids are out; it’s impossible to underestimate the allure of built-in playmates.
Another less-likely eventuality might concern your neighbors’ cooking habits—if dinnertime brings odors you find unpleasant, you might want to stay away.
9 p.m.: Time to par-tay?
It’s a good idea to find out if your neighbors like to live it up, advises Liane Jamason, broker associate at Smith & Associates Real Estate in Tampa Bay, FL. Her client drove by for a week and discovered his potential next-door neighbor liked to have loud, wild parties nearly every night. “Since my client worked in TV broadcasting and had to be up at 3 a.m. daily, he opted for a more peaceful neighborhood,” she says.
Feldman recommends that his clients park their car in front of the house and roll down the windows to check the noise level, whether it’s urban commotion or suburban parties. A late-night visit can also give you an idea of how safe the streets feel after dark.
If you can go in the house, do. Tyler Hanway, who recently bought a house in Fairhope, AL, didn’t realize until his first night in the home that his neighbors’ outdoor lighting shines into his master bedroom windows, filling the room with an orange glow.
3 a.m.: Planes, trains, and automobiles
And to return to the transportation theme that we started with, it’s not just airplanes that can disturb your sleep. Shawn Steen of Madison, WI, wasn’t the least bit concerned about the train tracks behind her house: As a kid, her grandparents lived near train tracks, and her previous apartment was just two blocks away from a track.
“I barely notice trains and thought, ‘no big deal’—until the train behind my house started coming through every night at 3 a.m., blowing its horn less than 100 yards from my bedroom window. It was ludicrously loud.”