I. Overview of Topic
There are many reasons you might want to research a specific U.S. neighborhood --
- You're moving to a new city and researching neighborhoods is your first step in house- or apartment-hunting.
- You're interested in starting a new retail business and need to know the demographic profiles of various neighborhoods before investing.
- You're about to run for political office and need to research neighborhoods and wider geographic areas in order to plan your campaign.
- You need neighborhood or citywide demographics, including economic data for: direct marketing; fundraising; real estate development; local advertising.
Well, there are too many reasons to list - or maybe you're just curious about the demographics of your own neighborhood or a colleague's. Whatever your reason, you should know that this once-laborious and time-consuming task can now be accomplished with ease and aplomb on the Internet in minutes.
Numerous web-property entrepreneurs, not to mention the U.S. Census Bureau, have done much of the hard lifting for you already. The type and detail of the information you can find at almost any geographic level you choose - from national all the way down to researching neighborhoods - is amazing.
U.S. Census Bureau's American Factfinder
You can get lost in the Census Bureau's website, it's that vast. But frankly, in my humble opinion, the presentation of demographic data on the site could be a little more straightforward. In fact, a lot more straightforward.
It turns out the Census Bureau is actually giving you two types of data here, namely 2010 census data and more frequently compiled American Community Survey data.
Both types of data provide about the same level of detail, which I'll discuss below. The main difference is that the latter type, the American Community Survey data, is not based on a census but on sampling. So its accuracy won't be quite equal to the census data, but -- depending on when you access it -- it may be more current.
The Census Bureau wants to make us work a little to get access to all this great information so it mixes it all together and then lets us figure out what's what. Here's what I think is the simplest way to get at it. Go straight to the American Factfinder page on the site. From there you can access demographic/economic profiles based on state, city, town, or zip code, but be aware that if the geographic area you select (say, by zip code) has less than 65,000 residents, you will get 2010 census data, not American Community Survey sampling data.
Given the above - namely that, at present, the more recent data is only available for geographic areas with more than 65,000 residents -- here's the kind of data you'll get --
Population and rate of population growth
Median home cost
Home appreciation last year
Cost of living compared to U.S.
Public school expenditures per student compared to U.S.
Average household size
Per capita income
Median household income
Real estate data
By the way, each fact sheet's data is dated in a blue tab at the top of the table.
You'll also have access to so-called "briefs" for most of these demographic characteristics, which provide analagous information for the nation as a whole, or, in the case of more recent American Community Survey data, a "rank" table which shows you how U.S. geographic areas rank in terms of that characteristic. There is much, much more on this site, and you can spend hours perusing it.
Sperling's Best Places
Sperling's Best Places is a terrific site for research - it's based largely on U.S. Census Bureau data, which you already accessed above, but it presents the data in a somewhat better context, and adds many nice touches. For example, it provides a host of links to helpful articles like "10 Best Places to Live," "Best & Worst Cities for Dating," "Best Cities for Seniors," and "Best Green Places." You can also read comments from real-live residents of the community you're researching ("The creepiest place in Seattle, in my opinion, is...").
In addition to the Overview for a given community, Sperling provides a separate page for each of these categories: People, Economy, Housing, Health, Crime, Climate, Education, Transportation, Cost of Living, Religion, and Voting, plus helpful links to (mostly) government web pages on relevant subjects, such as - in the case of Seattle -- "Wildlife Refuges in Washington," "Endangered Species in Washington," Aerial Photos of Seattle," etc.
The aim being, of course, to provide a one-stop shop for researching a given area. And it does a pretty good job. However, I advise also using the Census Bureau's site, as the data is labeled better there as to currency and coverage.
Other Neighborhood Research Resources
If you're really serious about researching neighborhoods or geographic areas there are a lot more Web resources out there you should review. Out of several dozen, here are the ones I think are best:
Community listings, links and reviews (by residents) of restaurants, food, night life, shopping, arts & entertainment, house services, education, "local flavor," health/medical, and more.
"Find your ideal neighborhood" promises this real-estate-oriented site. Its not-so-subtle intention is to get leads for real estate companies. But the data is great. For just about any neighborhood it can provide school ratings, crime rates, house prices, real estate appreciation rates, public school quality index, neighborhood "look and feel," age and lifestyle of neighbors, average education level, average income level, even languages besides English frequently spoken there. Though much data is provided without registration, you'll have to register and give them your email address if you want to get all the info they have available.
Many excellent easy-to-use tools: Salary Calculator, City Reports, School Reports, Move Planner, Relocation Wizard, Mortgage Wizard, Financial Calculators, Real Estate Search Engine (nationwide), and many tutorial articles on topics like "Choosing the Best Mortgage," and "Buying Your First Home."
- Intelius (fee-based)
For the serious researcher, here's a company that will check out a specific property and its neighborhood specifically for you. Their Property & Area Report, delivered instantly online, provides types of specific info you can't get in the more aggregated profiles that are available for free. For example, you'll get: home value, ownership info, sales history, size, property detail, current & previous residents, area sex offender check, mortgage, satellite & map images.
Under "Verification Services," click on "Property & Area Information."
- School Reports
This resource from the big job-listing site Monster.com provides the most detailed data you'll find on school districts and schools nationwide. Note that some schools aren't covered - if you can't find the public school you're looking for, try www.psk12.com )
This is primarily a real-estate search site but it also provides a lot of useful tools if you're relocating or investigating another area, such as Apartments & Rentals Search, Senior Housing Search, Corporate Housing Search, Rent Furniture, Find Insurance, Find a Mover, Rent vs Buy Calculator, Apartment Search tips, Moving Tips, Renting with Pets.
That's it - our ten minutes are up! (OK, maybe twelve or thirteen if
you're a slow reader.) Below is a listing of Web resources to help you
continue your work on researching neighborhoods.
II. For Additional Research
This Section provides reviews and recommendations of Web sites and other
So much for the serious work (Section I, above), now I'd like to mention a few sites you can have a little fun with. First, take a look at Claritas.com. This marketing research firm has analyzed neighborhoods and urban areas nationwide and classified them into 67 lifestyle categories, such as Country Squires, New Homesteaders, Young Influentials, Money & Brains, Young Digerati, etc. Just click here,
(or go to Claritas.com and click on "Free Resources" at top),
enter your zip code or the zip code of the neighborhood you're researching to find out the marketing tags Claritas has put on that area. You may be surprised to find you're seen by Claritas as a "Country Squire" when you thought all along you were "God's Country." Next, take a look at QuizRocket.com. Try the "Where Should I Live?" quiz under "Fun Personality Quizzes." While you're there don't forget the "What Drink Are You?" quiz. Finally try Homepages.com, which was nominated for a Webby award in 2006. It provides home values and satellite views of neighborhoods and buttons you can click to highlight schools, parks, and restaurants.