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by CareyBot

Anybody who has ever moved to an unfamiliar area — a new neighborhood in one’s own city or a town 500 miles away — may have experienced an "I wish I’d known that before I moved here" moment.

It’s not just the new house — it’s what might be around it. Whether it’s something as unsettling as discovering that a leaking underground storage tank is just blocks away or merely as disappointing as finding that the nearest public park is too far away for the kids to walk to, there are myriad quality-of-life issues that a prospective homebuyer needs to factor into a purchase decision.

But how is a new kid on the block to know?

Fortunately, the Internet rides to the rescue again. Homebuying tools have proliferated far beyond real estate listings — the Web can fill you in on crime, how much money your neighbors probably make, and yes, whether there’s an environmental hazard lurking near your would-be backyard.

Five sites for sleuthing the ‘hood:

1. It’s not just an inconvenience that little Brendan and his buddies always have to be driven to the playground — it might hurt your home values, too. A study released in August by CEOs for Cities, a network of urban leaders, concluded that there’s a connection between home values and "walkability," or the walking distance to shopping and social attractions. It found that houses with above-average levels of walkability command a premium of $4,000 to $34,000 over houses with just average levels of walkability in metropolitan areas studied.

A couple of sites claim to calculate the walkability of a given address. WalkScore.com, which has been around for several years, pioneered the concept: Type in your address, and Walk Score will award it a score based on access to parks, shopping, schools, etc. Recently, a competitor, WalkShed.com, entered the scene, though at this point it contains only walkability data for Philadelphia. It claims to be more realistic than WalkScore.com because it doesn’t use an "as the crow flies" measure of distance, and is based, instead, on the block-by-block distance to a given place.

2. Now, about that toxic neighbor: Type a street address into MapHazards.com and it will produce a map pinpointing sites determined to have high, medium or low risk. These can range from brownfields, which are sites of abandoned industrial facilities, or soil-contamination areas (both high-risk) to known, leaking underground-storage tanks that might contaminate groundwater (medium-risk) or hazardous-materials storage tanks (low-risk).

That map, however, is a generalized starting point; a detailed report (gleaned from the 300 sites that MapHazards.com says it monitors) costs $9.95.

3. New to the list of anxiety-provoking contaminations is drywall. The seemingly innocuous homebuilding material has been in the headlines in many regions this year because many homeowners around the country have begun to complain that theirs is tainted and is making their homes unlivable. …CONTINUED