Apr 28, 2024 - Newcomers Guide

A newcomers' guide to picking a neighborhood in the Twin Cities

a key with a heart on a red backygound

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

As is often the case in life, the best advice for figuring out where to live should be obvious: Stop scrolling.

Why it matters: All the Google searches, listing descriptions and neighborhood scores in the world can't substitute for getting a feel for a place IRL.

Case in point: Minnesota was still new to me when my husband and I started our house hunt in 2018.

  • So, we scheduled weekend adventures to explore various "micro-neighborhoods" across Minneapolis and St. Paul.
  • They helped us figure out what we wanted โ€” and where to look, once we were ready for open houses.

Here are some tips for narrowing your search:

๐Ÿฅ‡ Rank your wants: Unless you have an unlimited budget (and even if you do), you probably won't find a home that checks every box on your wish list.

  • Identifying your must-have considerations and nice-to-have options at the start will help you and your agent focus the search, Saint Paul Area Association of Realtors president Amy Peterson tells us.

๐Ÿšถโ€โ™€๏ธ Get your steps in: A stroll around a neighborhood will provide a better sense of everything โ€” from access to nature to noise pollution โ€” at no cost!

๐Ÿฝ๏ธ Stop for a bite: A meal at a beloved local haunt โ€” my husband and I targeted coffee shops and breweries โ€” is a great way to sample what an area has to offer.

  • Plus: Bartenders and baristas often know the neighborhood tea!

๐Ÿš— Take a ride: Given the time many of us spend traveling to and from jobs, schools and other commitments, a test commute by your preferred mode of transit isn't a bad idea.

  • I ruled out Robbinsdale early in our house hunt, knowing it would add even more freeway driving to the state Capitol in St. Paul.

๐Ÿซ Study the schools: The Minnesota Report Card lets you look up schools close to a potential new address and compare their test scores, graduation rates and other measures.

  • Ratings websites like GreatSchools are useful references, but use them with caution; research has found possible racial bias in their ratings.
  • The best way to judge a school? Ask the principal for a tour. A school with a middling rating may still be a great fit for your kid.

๐Ÿ’ธ Consider the (whole) costs: Joey Oslund, a realtor with RE/MAX Results in the Twin Cities, advises clients to factor in property taxes.

  • A home he owns in Richfield costs $600 more in taxes a year than a similarly valued one he has in Bloomington.

Reality check: We've still got a tight market, so many buyers can't be choosers.

  • Options โ€” and locations โ€” may be limited by both availability and price point.

Yes, but: Doing your homework โ€” even if it's just surveying friends and colleagues about their communitiesโ€” can help ensure you'll be happy once you have the keys.

Readers respond: More tips for finding your home

โœˆ๏ธ If you fly frequently, proximity to MSP Airport could be a plus, given how expensive parking or long cab rides can be, Cindy P. suggests.

โ„๏ธ Snow route schedules can also give you a sense of how fast your future street should be plowed when storms hit, she added.

  • She landed on a location on a bus line with several grocery stores within a mile for easier access in inclement weather.

๐Ÿ”ฎ It's not too soon to start thinking about your next move, Jan U. reminds us. Many families move out of her southwest Minneapolis neighborhood when their kids reach school age.

  • But given that those plans can be upended by factors largely out of the owner's control โ€” think interest rates or job losses โ€” it's important to consider whether you'd be OK sticking it out longer.

More coverage: What $325,000 gets you in the Twin Cities' real estate market

Axios' Sami Sparber contributed to this report.

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