The financing is in place.
That bulldog-like inspector you hired has sniffed out every flaw in your soon-to-be residence, and the sellers are busy addressing his findings.
Your sales contract is already heavy with seller concessions. Can you believe that sweet price you’re getting?
In a few short weeks, you will be sitting at the closing table, and you can’t help getting swept up in the excitement.
Not so fast — you might want to hold off celebrating for just a moment. You may have marked off every entry on your homebuyer checklist, but did you really finish your homework?
In their zeal to dot every “i” and cross every “t,” many buyers overlook less conventional but important “due diligence” issues when researching a home purchase, including those all-important neighbourhood-culture issues that will frame their living environment for years to come. Many a new homeowner have found the daytime serenity of the neighbourhood turning into a nightly storm of revving motors, barking dogs, late-night cut-through traffic and party houses, to name only a few.
That’s why a good agent will advise buyers to do as much reconnaissance work as possible on their own. Tell them to drive the neighbourhood at different times of day to make sure all the activities there are in line with their tastes.
There’s much more than renegade neighbours to consider. For example, that empty lot next door where your kids plan to play may not remain vacant for long. And another single-family home may not necessarily be what’s penciled in there. Try to do some research and see what the zoning calls for, you don’t want any unpleasant surprises.
One family was recently smitten with a home with an adjacent grass field and golf-course view. A little research revealed that the grass field had “light commercial” zoning and that an office, clinic or the like would soon wipe out the lot and obstruct the family’s view of the golf course. That was a wake-up call.
Commute time is under-researched as well. Relocating families that are unfamiliar with a town’s traffic patterns will sometimes buy a house that turns out to be a much longer work commute than they find tolerable. Advise a time-conscious buyer to drive to a home he is interested in on a Monday morning, and then time his commute to work. This way they can check it for themselves.
Here’s a list of a dozen frequently overlooked due-diligence issues:
Noise: Loud parties, teens with no curfews, your subdivision’s late-night cut-through point, the whine of diesel engines from a nearby interstate highway … these are few of your least favourite things. Can you hear the late-night fast-food orders coming from the drive-through lane on that main artery a block away?
Environmental issues: Sick-house syndrome, sometimes caused by hidden mold or odourless radon gas, can be vexing and render a house uninhabitable. Radon measurement professionals usually are listed in the Yellow Pages. Also, check for the proximity of power lines to your house.
Odours: Phew! What is that sulfur smell? Odours from nearby manufacturing or waste-processing plants may not have been obvious when the wind was blowing in a different direction. Visit the neighbourhood on several different days to get a broader representation.
Night lights: An unnoticeable phenomenon during daylight. Will the lights from an adjacent street, business or church cast a spotlight on your bedroom window at midnight? Is there adequate lighting to make you feel safe at night?
Commute time: That suburban house is great, but will that unexpected extra half-hour commute consistently ruin your day? Time your drive to work before signing that contract.
Sex offender search: This one is big in the peace-of-mind department. The National Sex Offender Public Website has listings for more than 40 states. Another site, KlaasKids, has an extensive databank on community-notification laws and state-by-state offender registration requirements. Also, many school districts monitor registries and send out notices when offenders move into the district.
Other crime: Police departments usually have crime data broken down by neighbourhoods. Some blocks seem to be magnets for car and home break-ins, drug dealing and other illicit activities. Are there houses in the neighbourhood that seem to attract a few too many nightly visitors? Do your homework.
Schools: Just because you’re buying into an upscale neighbourhood doesn’t mean the public schools are desirable. You can get average test scores and ratings online and student-teacher ratios from the district. Consider attending a PTA meeting to talk with other parents about safety and gang issues.
Transportation: Is there a mass transit stop in a short and safe walking distance? Do cabs readily serve your area? How quickly can you get to the nearest hospital or your doctor’s office?
Site survey: Make sure your property lines are accurate. The title company won’t always catch discrepancies. In many cities, buying “updated” title insurance when buying a house has become a suggested standard. The reasonable fees for it are worthwhile because it covers issues that tend to cost people money, especially if you end up having to move a garage or a deck.
Culture: Is there a neighbourhood association? If so, is that what you want? Is it overly strict? There will likely be dues to pay and some restrictions on roofing, street parking, house colour, landscaping or future additions you might plan. (Congratulations on your new triplets! Now hit the road.) The trade-offs are usually better home maintenance, code compliance and a better sense of neighbourhood unity and security. Also consider if the families on the block are reasonably consistent with your demographic and age groups. Will your kids have built-in friends?
Noise pollution: “Ba-boom!” That’s the recurring sound of the bass in the stereo systems of tricked-out cars that magically crank up when you’re approaching REM sleep — or is it the neighbourhood metal band? Are there frequent late-night parties or chained barking dogs left out all night in the neighbourhood? Is there a train whistle that will wake you up nightly? Chat up a few older neighbours and get the real story.
Of course, hanging around a neighbourhood at all hours could get you mistaken for a prowler or other unsavoury element. Taking walks around the block and cruising through the neighbourhood briefly at different hours will draw less attention.
There are other situations to watch out for. A lot of short-sales and foreclosure activity in an area tend to diminish value. If you’re buying into that neighbourhood, you may think it’s great because of the low price. But if you want to sell later, you may find the overall value of the area has taken a major hit.
Additionally, before settling on a community, check out its economic vitality, relocation specialists advise. When considering a job offer in another city, always consider what recourse or fallback you have if that job disappears, as jobs are wont to do these days. Go online to search the business archives of the daily newspaper or local business journal, paying close attention to real estate and jobs numbers and any pressing community economic or infrastructural issues. Remember that every neighbourhood is likely to have some kind of issue.
For more information email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.