How to Pick and Move to the Best Neighborhood for You and Your Family

Picking a place to raise your children can feel like an enormous decision — after all, it’s a major family milestone and where you live can affect everything from your kids' education to your family's social life. But before you put too much pressure on yourself to make the "right" decision, know that there are loads of wonderful (and very different) family-friendly neighborhoods out there.

The first step: Get the inside scoop. A real-estate agent, especially one with kids, can spill on the best of the 'hood — from preschools to playgrounds to popular mommy-and-me hangouts. Pick up the local paper for the lowdown about what’s going on in town. That'll clue you in on the community's vibe and important info, like the local crime rate (turn to the paper's police blotter for those reports). You can also get the skinny on, a site that compiles stats from numerous sources on everything from the cost of living to air pollution. And don't forget to tap into your network of new parents — friends of friends can give you valuable tips based on real-life experience of what it's like to live where they live.

Next, do some soul searching with your partner to figure out what tops your list of essential features (besides a house in your price range) and what's less of a priority. As you talk it over, consider these family-friendly neighborhood factors that may help make up your mind when it comes to settling on where to settle down.

Does the neighborhood have good public schools nearby? After you've checked out the local schools, consider whether there's one within walking (or, for later on, biking) distance — or whether your child will have to take a school bus. If your day includes a lot of school driving time, you'll want to factor that into your decision.

How many young kids live in the neighborhood? Check the stats, but use your eyes as well. Look for houses with strollers or trikes on the porch, swing sets for tiny tots, or cars with car seats in the back — all signs that point to future playdates for your pipsqueak.

Are you able to walk to a park or playground? Having a park close to home can be a big bonus. Not only does it offer ready-made entertainment for your tot, but it's also a good bet that other families with little kids live close by — so both of you are bound to make new pals while playing at the playground.

Is there a town pool or community center nearby? The neighborhood pool can be a hangout for you and your little one for years, while a local Y can be a hot spot for baby playgroups, toddler classes, and summer camps. Other family-friendly neighborhood nice-to-haves: a place of worship or a newcomer's club — both of which can boost your sense of community as you settle in after moving with kids.

Is there a downtown that fits your lifestyle? If you're a big-city mama, you may want to live in a neighborhood with a thriving downtown center that's walkable, accessible by mass transit, or at best, a short drive away. On the other hand, if being behind the wheel's no big deal, a downtown with plenty of free parking spots may top your list of family-neighborhood must-haves.

How long is your (or your partner's) commute to work? If the commute will always cut into your cutie's bedtime routine, you may want to pass up the house and the 'hood — no matter how appealing.

As you look for the neighborhood and house that fits your wish list, remember there's no perfect place — but you're bound to find plenty that are pretty great.

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