For people in the first stages of their local real estate search, entering a 5-number zip code seems to anchor almost every step of the way. That’s a quick way for computer databases like the MLS to direct searches, but there are some not-so-apparent facts about zips that it’s good to keep in mind.
Those of us who spend our professional lives assisting others to buy and sell local real estate know it to be true. Many future homebuyers – even those who currently don't have children -- base much of their search direction on the type and quality of nearby schools. Families want the option of being able to settle down, and most hope to be within hailing distance of good schools. But zip codes can exist in more than one school district, and many neighborhoods have more than one zip code! Add to that the fact that a given school district may have schools of varying quality and it becomes clear that zip code = school quality is not necessarily a valid real estate equation.
We all know that different towns have different tax ordinances, which might lead one to assume that taxes can be approximated by zip code. Not! Within a single zip code there can be different area ratings that influence property values. Proximity to water is frequently such a factor, and it can be significant.
Zip Grab Bag
Cities and towns have different zip code overlays: multiple town names may be included in a single zip, and many zips can share the same town name. Zip codes can direct a real estate search toward a general area, but as for being certain that it describes the place you are thinking of -- not so fast! A single zip’s radius can cover anything from Alaska’s amazing 99756 (roughly the size of California) to those metropolitan codes that cover just one building.
It’s the Neighborhood!
Getting serious about any area real estate home search means going well past simple online zip code entry. It means being familiar with neighborhoods. Neighborhood is a vague term because it encompasses the human factors: some are appropriate for young couples, featuring trendy shops and nightlife; others are more family-oriented with parks, playgrounds, and family-friendly dining options. These factors are not dependably tied to the five-number zip codes that govern most web searches.
The National Association of Realtors tells us that the average homebuyer spends 12 weeks looking for a new home -- and actually views a dozen of them. My office is here in town to help you with your actual neighborhood searches. You can bet that they will be the ones that count!