How do you research specific neighborhoods in a large city?
How do you know whether the neighborhood is on the upswing or tending downward in property value?
I would look at what new businesses are developing there. I'd imagine renters wanting to live close to shops, libraries, and restaurants. Some local attractions too. Also, some searches when your looking for a home will show you current crime rates by ward or division. There, it will show you what houses are selling for too.
There is no better way than by seeing with your own eyes. Certainly, if you are on out of town investor, you are looking at numbers and comps and trusting a local. What you cannot see from a spreadsheet or from Google are the neighborhood and adjacent streets. Take a ride at different hours of the day and night to get a good feel.
@Nathan Dehn I agree with Lance and Charlie Above. From a textbook sense... we've got the fundamentals to check out...
- Is the population of the neighborhood rising or declining? Most city pops are growing but which are growing faster?
-Is there a source of jobs drawing folks here?
-How desirable is the school district? A good school district will cause demand for housing for a long while.
More nuanced... there are aspects like
- Is there a key piece of info like a new Amazon distribution center opening or a Walmart opening?
- What is the "buzz" like in the neighborhood? Is there an awesome restaurant and night life scene down the street?
I'm reading in the book "Building Wealth One House at a Time" that there's really no great, reliable way to understand the wide area numbers and trends by just looking at the macro level data... really getting to know neighborhoods seems to be key. Recommend becoming a specialist on a few neighborhoods and expanding from there.
Honestly, I agree with the others above that driving the neighborhood is the best way to get a feel for things. You can discover very quickly how you feel about a place and what sort of prospects it has for appreciation. And sometimes with a city like Saint Louis the environment can change very dramatically based on minimal distance. For instance, I was interested in a cheap duplex for sale in U City, so I drove up to get a look for things before bothering my realtor for a showing. The neighborhood was not at all what I thought it was, even though the Google street view and listing photos made the property look gorgeous. Vacant businesses everywhere, barbed wire fences, etc... and in the ten minutes that I sat outside of the property, two young men got into a fist fight in a neighboring yard. Yikes.
Some of the items in my toolkit:
http://www.slmpd.org/crime_mapping.shtml - Maps all of the crimes recorded by the city's police department; Trulia also has a crime map that can give you rough estimations, but this map is more accurate and gives more verified detail. For instance, sometimes Trulia lists a bunch of crimes in an area, then you look and it just turns out there's a courthouse and people are getting warrants issued for not showing up to traffic court.
Niche.com - Again, take the things here with a grain of salt, but it gives you a rough idea of what an area is like. And they have virtually all the little municipalities in STL in their database.
Of course you can always search the STL city's assessor records for properties you're interested in. You can see zoning that way as well as "citizens service requests," which give you an idea of if properties are being cared for.