Neighbors are like in-laws; you don't pick 'em, but you do have to live with 'em.

"Every building develops its own culture and its own community, and it's really about the people," said David Tinjum, editor of the Mill City Press, which covers the residential corridor along the Minneapolis riverfront.

How can you get a read on what's going on in a residence before you write a purchase order or sign a lease?

• Ask questions. Get contact information for a few residents from your real estate agent or the building manager. Quiz residents about the specifics of what they like about their building.

• New in town? A downsizing empty nester? Planning to start a family soon? Ask to speak to someone who is making the same transition or is in a similar situation.

• Eyeball the building's common spaces to see if they are comfortable — and if anyone actually uses them. Check the attitude of the front-desk staff or the caretaker. Be a fly on the wall in the elevator or the fitness room to see if people greet each other.

"You should not feel like you're in an elevator at the IDS Center," said R.D. Zimmerman, who lives in the Edgewater in Minneapolis. "In our building, you'll hear people talking about their vacations or the weather, like people who know each other and are interested in each other."

• Some buildings have a budget to cover social expenses; those buildings often foot the bill for dinners, cocktail parties or sponsored events. Other buildings are a la carte, with residents paying when they participate. Smaller buildings may have no formal social committee and more casual, BYOB-style activities.

• Size matters. Bigger buildings offer more amenities, but may feel more impersonal. "My wife and I live in a building with 600 people; that's bigger than her hometown," said Tinjum.

• Are you an introvert, someone who wants to come home, close the door and be alone? Don't worry. Communal activities aren't for everyone, and residents who want to do nothing more than nod at neighbors can retain their privacy. Socializing is not mandatory.