My family moved three times in five years, so I’ve learned a few things about searching for a place to live without being familiar with the area. Quality of life is really important to my family, and to us includes a reasonable commute, leaving near amenities that are important to us and being surrounded by trees and places to walk.

Thankfully, in addition to your realtor, there are some great free resources available to help you narrow down your search. This way when you do come to town to do your in-person house hunting you’ll be a lot smarter about where to look. Here are some tips from me and other moms on making this process as easy as possible.

Kids make house hunting challenging, and amusing (yes, that’s a water fountain inside a house we looked at!)

Make a Map

Create your own Google Map (directions) with their My Maps feature. Start by adding where you (and/or your spouse) works. As you learn more about schools and other things important to you and your family you can add them to the map. You can also make notes on each entry, and consider your commuting options as you imagine what life would be like if you lived in a specific area.

If you’ve got or plan to have kids, another option is to use the Great Schools rating filter on Zillow.com. This gives you the ability to search for the size/price house you want and see the highly rated schools. When you click on a school it shows you the attendance area. Go here for Plano ISD maps that show boundaries for each school.

Commutes

Based on where you will be working, figure out which areas would give you a commute you find acceptable.  You can use the Google Map app on your phone to look at commute times during peak driving hours. This will give you a better idea of how far away you’re willing to live from your job, and which roads you want to live near or avoid completely. The Dallas forum on Citi-Data.com is a good place to ask questions about commutes and roads.

School Research

GreatSchools.org and SchoolDigger.com are two great resources for evaluating schools. When we moved to Plano my kids were going into kindergarten and fifth grades, but I started my school search by looking at high schools. This way you can more quickly dismiss large areas, because if you don’t like the high school you want to avoid buying a house there…even if the lower schools look fine.

If the high school looks good to you, add it to your Map. You can even make the map icon a school, which makes it a little easier to read your map. In the comments section for this new map item you can make notes about the school. Now drill down to the schools for younger grades and do the same thing. If you don’t like a school don’t add it to your map.

Other Stuff

What else is important to you in your daily life? Church? A community pool? Walking or biking trails? Golf? Ice rinks? Libraries? Specific types of stores (especially grocery stores)? Do you have a specific age house you want or don’t want to own? How do you feel about home owners associations (HOAs)? Add the things that are important to you and your family to your map and talk with your realtor about HOAs and neighborhood ages. This might help you rule out sections of town and further narrow your search.

More Data

You can get a lot of demographic information off the Plano, TX page on City-Data.com. Scroll down and you’ll see maps indicating household income and property values. These will help you determine which parts of town will work best for you. There is also a ton of other data on this page, probably more than you want to know but if you want statistics this is a fabulous resource.

Talk To Locals

There are lots of places you can chat with locals to narrow down your house hunt. Send me an email and I’d be happy to post your specific question about the area on the Plano Health & Fitness Facebook page, if the answer isn’t already on this site.

Good luck and try to stay calm! (easier said than done, I know)