4 Crazy Hard Things To Check On When Buying a Home

iStock_000003880809XSmallWe’ve only bought 4 pieces of real estate in our lives, including two homes. We lived in the first home 10 years and are going on 23 years in our current home. Here are four things I wish we had known how to check on before we bought.

Plans For Future Development

Road and highway changes, population density, new sewer facilities, and development licenses granted all mean more traffic, more fees and more noise.

Why?

You probably should be buying your home for the long term. What is there today may drastically change tomorrow. When we moved into our house facing a nice quiet and empty state highway it was an idyllic country like setting. We didn’t know the county planned to put in a divided highway just down the street and that our nice quiet state highway would become a busy feeder to the new divided highway, creating huge noise pollution and making it nearly impossible to even walk across the road to get our mail each day.

Our house was kind of in the country when we bought it. There was a septic system instead of sewers. If you are anywhere close to developments and the population density is increasing, you will be on sewers in the future. The sewer district will call on imminent domain to seize an easement on YOUR land and bill you for not only the building of the new sewer lines, but also on a monthly basis to pay for them. When our sewers came through, the district wanted an 80 foot easement in our yard – 80 feet! We were required to hook up to the sewer if the property came within 100 feet of it (by the way, you pay for the line from your house to the sewer line as well). We paid $10,000 for one of the charges to build – out of pocket, all at once, and now pay an additional $20 a month, forever. Of course, it does smell a lot better around here than it did when the lazy neighbors weren’t maintaining their septic tanks.

How?

Check in with your county clerk and find out if there is a master plan for your county, then see if you can talk to someone on the planning committee. Look for city and county permits granted for new roads, sewer lines or development projects. Find out who owns the land around the area and why they bought it. Check local newspapers to see if they reported stories about future plans or fights over imminent domain for land.

Zoning

Understand what regulations there are on the use of the property.

Why?

When we moved in zoning laws required a minimum of 3 acre plots for each house, because they were all on septic tanks. When the sewers came through this was changed – and now the zoning allows commercial and residential multi-dwelling, ugh.

Some areas don’t actually have specific zoning – they make the determination of what can happen in the area on a case by case basis. What you see today as a quiet family friendly zone, may actually already be on its way to becoming a commercial district. We own a condo in a resort area with these types of regulations. The neighbors in this quiet residential area unsuccessfully fought to prohibit the building permit for a two story condo building to replace that resort.

How?

Visit your county offices to find information about zoning regulations as well as where and when the zoning committee meets.

Checkout The Street And Neighbourhood At Different Times Of The Day

Be there at rush hour in the morning and evening, during weekend days and evenings and on holidays.

Why?

You are looking for problems with loiter’s, noisy customers, parking and traffic. You are looking for businesses that plan to expand or don’t have enough parking, causing your street to get parked up.

How?

Walk the neighborhood to get a feel for it. Stop and talk to any neighbors you see working in their yards. Garage sales make a good excuse to get into the area without it seeming weird or awkward.

Drive through and stop at any businesses close by. Chat up the employees to see what they know about their customers and the area.

Look through the newspaper archives (probably online) to see if there are problems in the past with leaking sewer lines, contaminated water supplies or proposed changes in air traffic flow.

Snoop Out The Property History

Dig in to find out as much as possible about what happened to the house up til now. You want to know about problems, owners names and ages, taxes, maintenance history, where the phone and electric and cable lines are buried,additions, landscaping changes, roofing, windows, how often electricity goes out, is there access to high speed internet and everything else you can find out.

Why?

The more you know about the house, the better equipped you are to not only make a purchasing decision, but also to be able to maintain your new house if you do end up with it. Knowing where the phone lines are buried (or even if there are any!) will save you the inconvenience of slicing through them while putting in new landscaping (this actually happened to us).

If particular types of repairs are done too many times on specific items it could point to a larger issue. If the entire home was recently re-modeled, it may mean that old problems were covered up.

Knowing where the main water cutoff to the house is can be real handy in a water emergency!  Knowing the tax appraisal history can help you understand how frequently you can expect real estate tax increases.

How?

Quiz the current owner. Read the owner’s disclosure but don’t depend on it. Our neighbor’s didn’t disclose the sewer district lien on the sale of their house and the new owner found out when they got late payment notice! I don’t think they had much recourse.

Get whatever records and receipts they will give you about repairs they have done to find out when they occurred, and how much was spent on them.

Talk to any and all neighbors you can find. It’s good to know who you will be living around and you can find out juicy tidbits from them. For instance, my personal opinion is that the house next door is cursed. In the twenty years we lived here, 4 owners lived there. Three of the four were couples and all had trouble with physical violence. That’s a silly example, but you can find out what the owners gripped about on their house to the neighbor. You can find out if the city or homes association is fair and equitable in enforcing policy – or if they will come down on a recently widowed senior for a minor chimney repair in an aggressive and hostile manner.

Most counties now have real estate tax and appraisal records on line.  Ours is in a database called the Geographic Information System (GIS).  It shows the appraised value for multiple years, as well as the taxes paid, who paid them and when they were paid.

So, what kind of homework did you do when you bought your home?


Comments

4 Crazy Hard Things To Check On When Buying a Home — 22 Comments

  1. These are all good idea. We have bought three properties and have done well aside from a small small mistakes. I definitely agree to check what future buidling plans are in the area. You never know what could go up across the street in an empty field!

  2. These are all great ideas. We looked at the sale prices pretty extensively as the area we bought in is popular for first time home buyers and thus has a bit of turnover. We also had to take a look at plans for future development as there is a fairly big farm near by us.

  3. Definitely plan for the future. My friend just bought a house in a pop up community and she’s one of the first ones. It scares me because she doesn’t know if she’ll live next to half built houses and dirt lots for the rest of her life.

  4. Great list, I did none of that when buying my first property and regretted it dearly. I only visited it in the morning, a trick the real estate brokers do because the neighborhood got really ugly at night. I believed them when they said there were plans for improvement but there also was a lot of debt and little money to improve. It was not such a bad investment in the end but hard to sell. Now I do all you recommend!

  5. I’m actually in the process of building a house right now and the street I live on currently dead ends but their are plans to hook it up to an adjoining neighborhood, which could mean more traffic down my street. On the bright side though I’m already hooked into the towns sewer system and water so I don’t have much to worry about their. Thanks for all the great tips though.

  6. These are great tips. I’ve lived in the same area since I was a kid and a lot has changed. Empty lots have been over developed and any free space has been snatched up and built on. No more are the days when you could find an empty field. Good things to ask before buying.

  7. These are great and very important tips. These kinds of things are what a realtor *should* be telling you and assisting with. Knowing what’s happening in a city is tough to stay up on. Talking to neighbours is also a great one for some of this info. When I worked for a real estate agent, he would always see if there were any neighbours around to go to talk to about new listings. My friends have had a ton of success randomly knocking on doors, especially when they have been looking for land. Neighbours know about things like drainage, or the fact the power has to be brought in further, etc.

  8. Yes! Check out the place at different times of the day FOR SURE! That’s a great one. Also, for property planning stuff, if you don’t have time to figure al lthat out, you could do what we did. Buy a house across the street from the cemetery. Cemeteries don’t usually get moved or built on, so we feel pretty safe that our “neighbors” will be quiet and some mansion or dumb strip mall wont’ get built there.

  9. It wouldn’t been hard, but We SHOULD have asked for a copy of the condo association’s “rules”. We have one neighbor who is nuts and always tries to make rules and rule the building. We’ve put him in place several times, but it would have been good to know the dynamic of the building before we moved in (since in a condo we have to live around other people, share common areas etc.)

    • Our vacation condo is our first shared ownership (or even HOA) experience. Anytime you have a group of people sharing – there are going to be disagreements. I prefer single ownership, but with a vacation condo, it is much easier maintenance wise than owning by ourselves.

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