A Dozen Things Home Buyers Should Do… But Most Don’t

    August 26, 2003

1. Ride the Neighborhood in the Early Evening: By doing this you will see the people who live in the area and how they live. You will see the condition of the cars, and if any conditions exist (loitering, loud music, etc…) which you may find objectionable. Do this more than once, and be sure to include Friday and Saturday nights.

2. Get a Home Inspection: Many home purchasers bypass this step because it will cost them a couple hundred dollars. However, a couple hundred dollars up front will let you know exactly what you are buying and reveal any problems you might not have noticed on your walkthrough. Real Estate Appraisers are not Home Inspectors. Appraisers make only a casual inspection of the property and are not trained to identify any problems other than the obvious. Do not rely on relatives who are contractors. If they are wrong, they probably won’t have Errors and Omissions Insurance for you to file against. Get a professional Home Inspector.

3. Visit the Local Police Department: Police Departments know the crime in an area better than anyone. Many will even print you a report of the crime history of a neighborhood. Once you buy a house, you are stuck with the neighborhood wether you like it or not. While you are at the Police Department, if you have kids, ask for a crime report on the school your child will be attending.

4. Check the Sexual Offender Register: Do you want to live next do to a child molester or rapist? Few of us do. The local Sheriff’s Department will have a list of all sexual offenders living in the area.

5. Check with the Local Road Department: Do you want to move into a house and later discover there are plans to run a freeway through your living room the next year, or there are changes planned that will turn your nice quiet cul-de-sac into a thoroughfare?

6. Check with the Local Zoning Board: The woods next door may be beautiful, but they may not appear so beautiful when you find out the land is zoned for a strip club, saw mill, convenience store, or apartments. Most cities and counties keep a wall map you can look at and tell in a few minutes if there are any allowed land uses you would find objectionable.

7. Obtain a Utility Cost History for the House: Most utility companies will print out a history of the utility costs for the property. High utility costs can be the result of an underground water leak, a malfunctioning furnace or air conditioner unit, or lack of proper insulation, among many other causes. None of these are cheap to fix.

8. Talk to the Neighbors Before You Sign the Contract: Often, neighbors will know more about the house than anyone besides the previous owner. They will also know about the neighborhood. Tell them you are interested in purchasing the house, and find out what they know. This also gives you a chance to determine if you will like your neighbors and their lifestyles.

9. Research the Former Uses of the Land and the Adjoining Land: Was there an old gas station down the road at one time? Was there a factory nearby years ago? Was there a town dump around the corner back in the 1930’s? All of this is important. Soil and water contamination from a property a mile away can affect your health and the resale value of your property. The Environmental Protection Agency publishes a list of hazardous sites. You may be surprised at how many are located in your area.

10. Add to the contract that the Seller will furnish to you for your review all plans, specifications, surveys, warranties, appraisals, or other information he has in his possession regarding the property within a specified number of days of signing the contract. Additionally, the contract should state that, upon purchasing the house, these documents become your property. You may find this information very valuable.

11. Count the Vacant Houses: A large number of vacant houses in a neighborhood may indicate that something is happening in the neighborhood that is undesirable. There is always some reason for vacancies. Often, it is just the normal market functioning as it should. But, when vacancies are excessive, it could be that the local economy has turned down, the foreclosure rate is high, or something more sinister is happening like gang problems in the neighborhood. If you find a lot of vacancies you can often use this information to negotiate a better price on the house you are purchasing.

12. Count the For Rent and For Sale Signs: Do this for the same reason you count the vacancies. Additionally, a high number of rentals in a neighborhood indicate that the neighborhood is less stable. Remember, the residents of a neighborhood makes the neighborhood. Most renters are great people (most people are renters), but because of the high turnover in rentals, the odds of you having a bad neighbor during your term of ownership are increased significantly over what it would be with homeowners as neighbors.

There are all kinds of hidden problems you may not find about until it is too late, unless, of course, you do your homework. The key is information. You can not have too much. Question anyone who might be familiar with the area or the property. Real estate agents often know very little about the house or the neighborhood. Sellers will usually keep their mouths shut and reveal no more than what they legally are required to reveal. It is up to you to do your homework.

Brande and Chris Bradford are active participants in a home based business opportunity and are the publishers of GREAT HEIGHTS, a monthly newsletter focused on home based business issues. To subscribe to their newsletter, send a blank e-mail to: Great-Heights-Subscribe@yahoogroups.com or visit: http://www.brandebradford.com