When you visit communities to figure out which one you want to live in, one of the most important things you could possibly do for yourself is talk to as many people who actually live there as possible.
This is best accomplished if you are taking advantage of the “Stay and Play opportunities” that many communities offer these days, where for a nominal fee they will put you up for a couple of days so you can get a good feel for the community. In which case you’ll have a few days to meet several residents and learn what they like and don’t like about the community.
But even if you’re just visiting for the day and getting the official sales presentation, you need to find a way to break free from the salespeople and strike up a conversation with as many residents as you can.
In great communities, salespeople realize their residents are the BEST salespeople, and they’ll have no hesitation about you talking to the residents. Some communities even set you up with a resident ambassador to facilitate this process.
If you’re ever in a community though and get the sense they don’t want you to talk to other residents, that could be a bad sign.
Here’s what you should be asking.
1. Where are they from?
Finding common ground quickly is important if you truly want them to open up to you.
Asking people where they’re from can help you find that common ground. Maybe you’re not from the same place as they are, but maybe you know someone from there or you’ve visited in the past.
Either way, this is a great place to start and you can also get some good information about what it was like adjusting to life in Arizona.
2. How long have they lived here?
With this question you’re trying to figure out just how much experience they possibly have to share with you.
If they’re a fairly new resident, that can be a good thing. Everything you’re about to go through will be fresh in their mind and you can get a lot of helpful hints about things like home selection, lot selection and so on from people like this.
If they’ve lived in the community a few years or longer, this can be a good thing too. First, you know they liked it enough to stay. It’s good to hear they didn’t move in and hate it so much that they immediately started looking for another community.
Plus, they’ll have a better understanding of the inner workings of the community that they’ll hopefully feel free to share with you.
3. What model did you buy?
For whatever reason, people tend to be super-proud of whichever floorplan they chose. Even if its not the size or style you’re thinking about buying, hear them out. You never know what great insights might escape their lips.
Related to this you can ask what they building process was like, what changes they would have made to the home (if any) in hindsight.
All of this can help you immensely no matter what type of home you buy or where you buy it.
4. Where in the community did they buy?
If its a small community, this doesn’t matter as much. But if it’s a big sprawling master-planned community, it’s a very important question.
Different neighborhoods within the community can have drastically different vibes, and pluses and minuses.
Try to get to the root of why they chose to purchase where they did.
5. Do they live in the community full-time?
If you’re planning to snowbird for a few years at first this is a great way to figure out who your fellow snowbirds are and what it’s like to lock and leave your home for months at a time.
What types of services (security, house check, maintenance, etc.) do they employ while they’re gone to keep an eye on their home and how do they like them?
If they live there full-time, try to get a sense of what the different times if year are like in the community. Are certain times more crowded or less crowded than others, and what is that like?
6. Do they plan to stay here forever?
Nobody can predict the future, but most people have some sense of whether this will be their forever home or if they see themselves outgrowing the community in some way.
Maybe they like their home but they heard about the future golf course community being built a few miles away and they’re interested in checking that out.
Either way, this question can elicit some very helpful information.
7. What do they think about other communities in the area?
If their response is to belittle all the other communities around, however rude it may seem, its not necessarily a bad thing. Maybe they’re just passionate about the community they chose and very happy with their choice.
(Side note: A salesperson should NEVER do this. If they do, it should raise red flags! It’s o.k. for them to point out the ways in which their community might be better, but they should never say something like, “Oh, that community is terrible … you don’t want to look there.”)
Back to the residents, see if they know anyone who lives in the other communities you might be considering. Maybe they’ve met these other people through church, civic, or social groups. The more leads you get for people to talk to and learn from, the better.
Don’t Be Shy!
Don’t be shy about any of this. The residents you’re going to meet were in your shoes one day not too long ago, and they’ll remember and empathize with what you’re going through and the decisions you’re grappling with.
In almost 100% of cases, you’ll find that the residents you try to talk to will be more than happy to give you at least a few minutes of their time and tell you what you want to know.
Some of them will be so excited to talk to someone new you might not be able to get them to shut up once you’ve heard enough.
Good or bad, let them get everything off their chest. You never know what they might say, positive or negative, that might help in this important decision.