Location is one of the most critical factors in a home search because it's permanent. You can rehab an outdated kitchen or finish a basement, but you can't get rid of the shopping center across the street. That's why scouting out the right neighborhood is crucial.

People who move to an urban area for the first time or those who leave the city for a house in the suburbs often underestimate commutes and then quickly tire of time spent in the car. Escalating gas prices only add to their woes. That can spark buyer's remorse, with homeowners deciding to cut their losses and find a new house closer to work or public transportation. To avoid this situation, buyers might want to clock their potential commutes during different times of the day before putting in an offer.

While crime statistics and school rankings help provide a snapshot of an area, they give little clue as to whether neighbors socialize with one another or get involved in community organizations. When scouting prospective neighborhoods, keep your specific needs in mind. If you have children or pets, search for clues that the neighborhood will be welcoming to them: swing sets in yards, community parks and pools, and dog parks, for example.

Ask friends or co-workers if they know anyone who lives in the area you are targeting and whether you might be able to speak with them. Whenever possible, get out of the car and walk the sidewalks. Visit schools, churches and neighborhood hangouts. Have lunch in a local restaurant, taking time to speak with residents about the pros and cons of their area.

Though “perfect” locations are rare, decide what you can live with — and what you can't. If something minor bothers you about the location now, chances are it is still going to bother you five or 10 years on. When looking at a home, evaluate conditions both inside and outside the property, traffic and light levels. Before you visit, you might make your own list (for instance, is there noise from other tenants in the condo? Fireplace? Backyard?) to compare different homes and see how they measure up.

Once you've got the list, our advanced search capabilities will help find you homes that meet your criteria.

When you visit, consider taking notes and photos. You might think you'll remember, but after an afternoon of touring different properties, individual characteristics might blur together.