The residents of high-income neighborhoods often have busy travel schedules and hectic social calendars. So does that mean plush neighborhoods are less welcoming to newcomers than less affluent ones? Not necessarily, says Peter Lovenheim, who's written a book on community.
"It's idiosyncratic which residential areas are friendly. You can't predict this based on income alone. Sometimes, just one person who is proactive in leading neighborhood events can make a huge difference," says Lovenheim, who details his own struggle to find community in his book "In the Neighborhood."
The book was written after a murder-suicide occurred in Lovenheim's suburb, and residents there faced the shocking realization that they'd never met the family involved. As a result, he embarked on an attempt to get to know others in the neighborhood, and found many feeling alienated and lonely.
As Lovenheim notes, there are many pluses to living in a friendly, close-knit community instead of one where residents don't even smile or say hello when they meet on the street.
Are you a homebuyer who wishes to move to a friendly neighborhood? If so, Lovenheim suggests you look for a community with a "built environment" that supports neighborly interaction. That could include sidewalks and green spaces where residents can interact easily.
Here are a few other pointers for homebuyers:
-- Look for a strong neighborhood school.
A strong neighborhood school has the potential to make a community more coherent by strengthening bonds among parents, says William Bainbridge, president of the SchoolMatch Institute, (schoolmatch.com), which provides comparative school information.
Must you shoehorn yourself into an expensive neighborhood to find an excellent school? Not necessarily, says Bainbridge.
"Our research indicates there are still many areas in the U.S. where houses are moderately priced and the schools are great," he says.
Mark Nash, author of "1001 Tips for Buying & Selling a Home," says that children are the conduit for lots of connections among families, particularly through playdates and sleepovers.
-- Don't assume that an "age-restricted" development is your best bet.
Obviously, it's not just people with school-age children who wish to live in a friendly community. Indeed, retired people have even more reasons to appreciate strong neighborhood ties, given that they spend so much time at home.
Many older house hunters are drawn to age-restricted communities where they hope to find social activities to fill their days. But Nash says some who choose such a community face an unexpected result: boredom.
People with broad intellectual interests, as well as the ability to program their own time, can find life in an age-restricted community that's located in a resort area to be especially monotonous due to the dearth of cultural attractions.
"Who wants to spend every cocktail hour hearing talk about other people's aches and pains or what's on their dinner menu?" Nash says.
-- Investigate the social dynamics of any neighborhood you're considering.
Nash, a longtime real estate broker, says homebuyers seeking a friendly, interactive community should spend sufficient time there to pick up less-than-obvious clues about how people relate.
"Even prestige neighborhoods can present real problems if a few residents there have noisy lifestyles or otherwise disturbing tendencies," Nash says. "A couple of very loud party animals who are always up late can spoil the peace for all who live on their street."
To investigate the underlying social dynamics of a community, don't hesitate to go door-to-door for conversations with residents or to talk to local merchants. Quiz them about the pluses and minuses of living in the area; they're likely to give you their candid views.
-- Preview the neighborhood more than once.
Nash encourages buyers with a strong interest in a particular community to visit the area at various hours to scope out patterns of behavior. Also consider visiting on a weekday as well as the weekend.
"Ideally, you'll walk or drive through the neighborhood four times in one day, during the morning, at mid-afternoon, at dinnertime and at 11 p.m. Observe whether residents are interacting or staying in their homes nearly all the time," he says.
In some neighborhoods, residents are superficially friendly yet don't build in-depth relationships with one another.
"It's one thing for people out walking their dogs to smile and wave. It's another for them to occasionally stop and chat before moving on," Nash says.
-- Don't rule out a brand-new subdivision.
Are you interested in buying into a subdivision that's still under development, but fear it could be an unfriendly habitat? If so, Nash recommends you learn more about the area before rejecting it based on what could be an unfounded assumption.
It's true that brand-new communities are often populated by two-income families with parents in their 20s to 40s who have very demanding daily schedules. Even so, many who move to new areas are highly motivated to make friends with neighbors who have children the same age and who would like to share child-care responsibilities.
"The beauty of a brand-new neighborhood is that there's no established social hierarchy. That means everyone is a newcomer and all the friendships are fresh, which can make for a more inclusive place to live," Nash says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at email@example.com.)