Moving to a new city? If so, you’ve got a lot of research ahead of you. From municipal services and cable providers to the best local coffee shops and healthcare practices, you want to know everything about your new digs. But how can you scope out your stomping grounds without actually being there?
Thanks to today’s digital advancements, you don’t have to be physically present to learn about a city. The Internet is an invaluable tool if you know where to look; here are six tips to help you make the most of online resources as you research your new city from afar.
Consult Neighborhood Databases
There are numerous online databases dedicated to collecting and analyzing important information on U.S. cities. At City-Data.com, you’ll find profiles of cities with pertinent statistics like cost of living and median income levels. NeighborhoodScout digs deeper into this data, with more detailed descriptions on area demographics and characteristics, though crime rates and home appreciation values are only available with a subscription. StreetAdvisor is hyperlocal, focusing on ranking neighborhoods and streets for popularity. And if walkability is important to you, Walk Score rates neighborhoods based on their proximity to stores, schools, coffee shops, and parks.
Ask the City
One of the best sources of information may be the city itself. Call city hall and ask for some new resident resources, or visit the official city website to get familiar with city happenings. Many cities have shareable online guides for visitors and residents, and officials can also pass on info about how to set up utilities or find the local Internet provider that covers the area. Contact the local Chamber of Commerce, too, for some suggestions on the best restaurants or businesses in the area.
Do the Commuter Math
Get an idea of what kind of commute length you’ll be looking at before you move. If you’re planning on driving to work, the traffic overview on Google Maps will be one of your best resources. The site gives accurate traffic estimations down to day and hour. If you will be taking public transportation, don’t forget to check the routes and schedules of the local public transit. Most transit authorities also have an online “Plan My Route” feature that will detail how to get from one place to another — including any train switches or bus transfers, which can add to commute time.
Check School Reviews
It’s said that great schools make great neighborhoods, and it’s usually true that residents who care about their schools generally care about their community, too. Even if you don’t have kids or aren’t planning on any in your near future, it’s a good idea to find a neighborhood with an attractive school system — especially if you ever plan to resell. If you want to learn more about schools in the neighborhood you’re moving to,GreatSchools — an independent nonprofit — publishes a guide that ranks local schools on a 1–10 scale. The site largely bases its rankings on standardized test scores, though in states where information is available, college readiness and student outcome rates are also included. There’s also a separate space for local residents to share their own reviews.
Delve into Crime Rates
Crime rates are among the most important statistics to learn about when moving to a new area. Many city police departments publish this information on their official website, and if rates aren’t available online, you can usually gather some cursory data over the phone. Additionally, there are plenty of sites that share public crime data.CrimeReports, Family Watchdog, and SpotCrime are all great online databases that analyze local crime stats by area and type of crime. SafeWise regularly ranks the safest cities in the country and by state.
Turn to User Forums
Locals give great honest feedback, and online forums are the best places to find current residents or ask specific questions about an area. The user forums at City-Data.com and city subreddit lists on Reddit are a great place to start. Nextdoor — a private networking site where neighbors can connect and chat — is another good resource for personal community responses, as are bigger social media and review sites, including Facebook, Instagram, Yelp, and Google+. Reading through posts from residents on these pages will give you insight into the things that matter to the community, and you may even find some friends that share your interests.
Moving to a new city can be overwhelming, but you can calm your nerves by doing some solid research beforehand. Use these tips to get familiar with your future home and start thinking like a local before you actually become a local.