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Find Out If You'll Like Living in the Neighborhood Before You Make Home Purchase

June 13, 1993|ELLEN MELINKOFF | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Melinkoff is a Los Angeles free - lance writer. and

You've found the perfect house. You're calling in the experts to inspect it, roof to foundation, to make certain it's as perfect as it seems.

While the inspectors are elbowing through crawl spaces, turning flashlights on dark corners, you should be doing a little inspecting yourself: sizing up the neighborhood to see if it's as perfect as it seems.

Noisy neighbors, parking problems, the apartment or condo building next door--they can make or break the tranquillity of life in your new nest more than a leaky roof can. You can fix a roof. But you have no control over who parks in front of your house, the weekend woodworker next door, the shadow an apartment house casts over the yard where you envision your vegetable garden.

Sizing up the neighborhood involves a three-pronged approach: driving the area, making a few phone calls and, most important, knocking on doors to ask neighbors for their assessment of life on the street. The talk-to-the-neighbors strategy works best if you talk to more than one and you size up the neighbors before you knock.

"Pick out the nice houses," said Ron Capotosto, general manager of Re/Max Masters Real Estate in Covina. "Talk to neighbors who keep up the paint and the landscaping." Don't knock where there are weeds, cars on the lawn or a heavy-metal band practicing in the garage.

"People are usually very helpful and willing to talk," said Fran Flanagan, a regional manager for Jon Douglas Realty in Brentwood. "Ask them what they think are the pros and cons to living on the street. And if there's a (neighborhood) association, call the president and ask for an assessment."

Here are 10 areas to think about when you're sizing up a new neighborhood:

1--Pride of ownership. Look carefully at how neighbors take care of their homes and yards. "You have no control over neighbors," said Capotosto, "only over the house you're buying." After you've fixed your roof, landscaped your front yard, painted your house, you still have to look at theirs. It's the house across the street that you'll see when you open you door every morning.

How are the other homes maintained. "Is it Christmas in July? Are the lights still up?" Capotosto asks. This may be a sign of a general lack of interest in keeping property in tip-top condition.

Temmi Walker, president of James R. Gary & Co. Ltd. East in Studio City, points out that some year-round lights in hard-to-get-to-but-inconspicuous places are not as serious an infraction of the pride-of-ownership code as those left around the front door.

Are there cars parked on the front lawn? Walker says that she's seen cars parked on the lawns in the best of neighborhoods "and it really drags it down." A good detective looks farther: car tracks on the grass, heavy oil drips in the driveway. Someone who doesn't maintain a car may not maintain a house.

If there's an alley behind the house, drive down it. In many areas, alleys are maintained by the people who live adjoining them. Cynthia Szegeti, an actress who recently bought a home in North Hollywood, drove the alley behind the house she was interested in buying. She noticed that it was kept immaculately clean--by the residents who would be her immediate neighbors. Good sign. Driving the next alley a block away, she discovered debris and garbage strewn down the block. "The contrast was startling," Szegeti said.

2--Traffic. Are there traffic lights at either end of the block? A stoplight is there for a reason: to control traffic. So ask yourself: what traffic? The light may have been installed to allow pedestrians to cross the street safely between two faraway intersections.

Or it could indicate that the street bears the brunt of traffic in an otherwise tranquil, residential neighborhood. Your quiet little street may be a nightmare at rush hour. Traffic backed up half a block. Drivers speeding up to catch a green light.

In the Larchmont area of Los Angeles, there are five quiet streets north of Beverly Boulevard that seem almost interchangeable at quick glance: modest, one-story houses on all of them. But one, Windsor Boulevard, has a stoplight at both Melrose Avenue and Beverly Boulevard.

The light at Beverly is mostly a convenience to pedestrians. But three blocks away, at the Melrose light, is the main gate to Paramount Studios. Residents on Windsor must live with the considerable traffic generated by Paramount employees and visitors. Homeowners a block away are oblivious.

Is there a "Paramount gate" in your prospective neighborhood? Do college students use your block to cut to and from campus? Are you fronting a not-so-secret shortcut to the freeway? Consider both the amount of traffic and the speed. Do the stoplights encourage drivers to drive faster or slower?

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