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Originally published Saturday, September 23, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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Real estate how-to

Get to know the neighborhood

Just because it's cliché doesn't mean it isn't true. The three most important things in real estate really are location, location...

Just because it's cliché doesn't mean it isn't true. The three most important things in real estate really are location, location, location.

Almost anything about a particular home can be changed, but almost nothing can be done to change your neighborhood.

Hunt for a few neighborhoods where you would like to live, then narrow your hunt to homes that come on the market in those well-researched areas. Here's how to pick a neighborhood:

Get out of the car. Walk or bicycle the neighborhood to get a true flavor of what it would be like to live there. On foot or bike, you learn so much: You'll see whether the neighbors give their homes enough TLC; you will notice signs posted about zoning changes or potluck parties.

You'll also hear things like barking dogs or the hum of a nearby highway, and maybe even discover the scent of a nearby fast-food place that would become your constant companion.

See what creeps out after dark. Visit in the evening, especially if you are buying in a city. Do you feel safe? Is there enough parking?

Be wary of the woods. Unless you own them, the lovely woods in your backyard may be developed someday and turn into someone's backyard or even a commercial building.

Try the commute. Set your alarm extra early, hop in the car and drive to the neighborhood you're considering. Then drive to work from there, by car or public transit, however you would do it if you lived there. Reverse the commute in the evening.

Trust only what you see. Don't count on proposed schools, shops or places of worship marked on the developer's map. They might never get built — at least, not in your lifetime.

— From "The Fearless Home Buyer," by Elizabeth Razzi

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