In many ways, choosing a community in which to live is really about choosing the kind of life you’d like to lead, and the friends and neighbors with whom you’d like to share that life. When you’re shopping for a new home, choosing the right neighborhood is essential. So how do you pick the place that’s right for you?

Think About What Matters

Before you dive too deep into house hunting, take a few moments to think about what matters most to you and your family.

Do you have kids who’ll be heading to school? Then you’ll want to research schools in your target areas. Good schools are great for your home’s value over time, so it may be worth checking out a neighborhood’s schools even if you don’t have children.

How Do You Want to Spend Your Time?

Think about your hobbies and how you like to spend your time. Do you need access to a gym? Parks and green spaces?  Hiking trails or bike lanes? If outdoor activities are a big part of your life—or if you’re pretty sure you’d like them to be—consider what you’d need in a neighborhood to make it easy to maintain an active lifestyle.

Everyone needs to eat—do you need access to restaurants? Grocery stores? Farmers’ markets? Coffee shops? Bars and nightlife?

Also think about how you get around. Is it important to have places to go within in walking distance of your home? Do you need quick access to the highway? Or the airport? How long are you really willing to commute to get to work?

What Do You Hope to Avoid?

You’ve probably also got a list of things you don’t want in a neighborhood, too—if quiet is important to you, then living in a neighborhood bisected by a busy freight rail line is probably not for you.

No neighborhood is perfect, of course, so try to to identify the things on your list that are really critical, and things on your list that are just nice-to-have.

Next, you’ll want to do some neighborhood detective work. It’s easy to get started online with neighborhood guides—Compass is a great place to start. You can research crime and safety statistics with NeighborhoodScout or school-ratings and reviews at GreatSchools.

Once you’ve done some online research, though, you’ll want to hit the pavement: driving or walking around potential neighborhoods will help you get a feel for the place and the sorts of people who live there.

Ready to start house hunting? Check out our article on the best tips for getting started here.