Location, Location, Location

According to the New York Times, the saying has been around since at least 1926, and it's still very relevant today.

But why does location matter so much? For starters, you can’t move a home..not practically speaking, anyway. When you buy a home in a good location, it’s usually a solid long-term investment.

Real estate agents often advise their clients to buy the worst house — a property that could use some TLC — on the best block. Why? Because fixing up a home in a great neighborhood will most often give you the best return on your investment. Quite simply, it will be easier to sell for your price later on. Conversely, you can buy a beautiful home that doesn’t need any work. But if the block is sketchy or just plain bad, you could have a harder time selling the property.

So if “location, location, location” is so important, what makes a location good? Here are four characteristics to look for when buying a home. If you can get all four, chances are the house you're looking at is in a good location and will probably be a solid investment:

1. A safe neighborhood...no explanation necessary on this one.

2. Good schools...even if you don't have kids, and never plan to have any, it holds true that homes in the better school districts usually retain their value and are easier to re-sell. If you do have kids, moving to a good school district may make sense, even if the homes are a bit more expensive. Why? If you're considering private school as an alternative to a poorly ranked neighborhood public school, tuition and private school related expenses could add another $15K-$40K to your budget. Bottom line: Always think like a future buyer when choosing a home.

3. Convenient access to popular places (wineries, shops and restaurants): In Sonoma County, this could mean different things to different people...proximity to the square in Healdsburg, easy on/off Hwy. 101 for commuters, a pretty home in a subdivision near good schools, grocery stores and health/athletic clubs ala Fountaingrove in Santa Rosa or the beautiful views and relative quiet of a home in a rural wine country setting.

4. Future development: Future proximal development can help or hinder a homeowner's enjoyment of their house and, ultimately, their affect their investment. Before buying the house with the large, vacant lot nearby, find out what the plans are for that land and how it is zoned. Consider how future development in the community may affect your investment.

Reminder: Good (and bad) qualities vary by community. Choose a real estate agent with strong knowledge of the area that you're interested in.