Awhile back, we wrote about a very cool website called Walkscore, a Google Maps mashup that tells you how walkable your neighborhood is, based on factors like your home's distance from basic services, food, entertainment and other things. Now Walkscore has a sibling -- a website called Optimal Home Location (not that catchy, granted, but true to its name), which is the perfect tool to use before you move somewhere in order to achieve maximum neighborhood walkability.
Even if your new neighborhood/life isn't "walkable" per se, this tool should do much to guide your house-hunting, and at least reduce your commute, which is something we can all get behind. It works like this: you tell it where you and your family work and play -- entering all the addresses of the places you regularly go -- and its handy calculator will weight them all according to importance and frequency of travel, and find you a place to live more or less in the center of it all, where you can live using the least amount of gas (and just as important, travel time) possible.
Unfortunately, it doesn't take home prices or skeezy-ness of neighborhood into account, but it will allow you to choose a number of different neighborhoods and compare the commutes, so you can self-filter. Not to mention the fact that a pricier house near the places you work and play might end up being less expensive in the long run than living way out in the 'burbs and commuting. (For those of you moving to a new city, it helps to have a friend on the ground: a friend of mine is considering moving from Florida to Los Angeles in the near future, and was very surprised to learn that the neighborhood she was considering is easily an hour's commute from the heart of the city. That's traffic for ya.)
Anybody wishing they'd had a tool like this before they picked a new house?