Q: I’m relocating to another city and don’t know which area to consider. How can I tell if a neighborhood is convenient, safe and close to what I want to do?

A: Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, checking out a new area is easier than ever before. Assuming you’ve figured out your budget, try pinpointing possible neighborhoods that fit into your needs by asking friends, colleagues or co-workers. Also make a list of your location must-haves, such as convenient commuter routes or favorite type of off-time activities.

Looking for a place to start inputting your choices? An amazing tool for researching a world of destinations is through the Web site earth.google.com. Once downloaded from the Internet and onto your computer system, for no charge you have a satellite view of the world down to the finest detail. Starting with a view of a twirling globe, with a click and roll of your mouse you can hone in anywhere on earth you desire — from as general as the clouds above a region to a specific street address with amazing clarity. Views can be as close as 300 feet from above, and with a scroll of the mouse can be brought into sharper focus. Reversing the mouse will pull back the view and show the neighborhood and surrounding area in astounding detail.

Using a specific street address is best, so when looking for a place gather a few choices to input. Rolling the mouse will shift the view anywhere you want to go — from driving down the nearest street to taking the expressway to another city. Do you want to know how to get from one location to another — or the distance between them? You can input a city and state, region or specific address. If you know your job or school address, you can actually see the route to anywhere you choose. In larger cities, some areas can be viewed in 3-D and street-level view, right up to the front door by sliding the bars located on the upper right portion of the screen.

How are you planning to get to work or school? What time will you most likely be on the road? How long does rush hour stretch? Maps that pinpoint and provide directions between locations can be found through several map sites including maps.google.com, mapquest.com and maps.yahoo.com. In addition to providing invaluable directions and maps, they include real-time traffic activity that monitors traffic speed and incidents causing slowdowns. Try checking the exact route and time you’ll be traveling, and then decide if the distance and cost of gas works for you.

Map sites also offer links to area restaurants, businesses, places of worship and more.

Want to look into public transportation? There are many routes to take — bus, train or subway — but in some areas choices are few and far between. Most public transportation options can be found online. Search "Public Transportation" and the city name for an area guide. For example, "Public Transportation City of New York" yields http://www.mta.info/nyct, which transports you to the home site for the New York State Metropolitan Transit Authority and links to specific city information. Likewise, searching "Public Transportation Seattle" suggests http://transit.metrokc.gov as a route to more information.

When looking for community details, don’t overlook the U.S. Census Bureau at census.gov. The "American Fact finder" option offers a vast array of information ranging from housing type and density to economic and household details. The search can be based on any address, ZIP code, city, county or state you can name.

What about personal safety in a particular area? In the state of California, registered sex offenders can be tracked through meganslaw.ca.gov. For details regarding other state registry sites, access klaaskids.org for links.

Information about burglary, car theft and other crimes in an area are usually available through the local police or sheriff’s office. Search "Crime Statistics" and the name of the city or town to look into details. Most provide a map that can be generated by inputting address or area. Sites provide specific details on type of crime, timeline and location.

What about the quality of local schools? Most states now have standardized test scores available for their district. Local schools often have individual Web sites that show photographs of the grounds and give in depth detail about available programs, staff and amenities.

Enjoy shopping at local farmer’s markets? Stroll through ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets/map.htm for directions. Like to garden? Some areas have communal growing space. Dig through localharvest.org for details and how to obtain organic foods through various sources.

Keep in mind that while using the Internet is no substitute for visiting the real thing, it does help kick off an informed search for a place to call home.


What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor. To contact the writer, click the byline at the top of the story.

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