Published August 26, 2013
You’ve gone to the open house. You’ve had a private showing. You’ve read the disclosures. You’ve decided this is the house for you, and you’re ready to make an offer.
Before you take that step, though, you should fully check out the neighborhood. After all, this is where you’re going to live for years. Is there something you don’t know about that could negatively affect the resale value later? Is there a neighbor who comes roaring home late at night on a muffler-free motorcycle? Is the next-door neighbor operating a day care for pre-schoolers?
Given the high stakes of homeownership, it pays to do your homework before making an offer. For example, a potential buyer was ready to sign on the dotted line for a home in San Francisco, a city famous for its microclimates. The buyer had only been to the home during the day, when it was sunny and warm. On his real estate agent’s advice, the buyer returned at night — to find the house blanketed by cold, windy fog. He continued his home search elsewhere, relieved he hadn’t unknowingly bought into the city’s “fog and wind belt.”
Here are five ways to investigate a neighborhood before you buy.
1. Talk to the neighbors
Without being intrusive, look for an opportunity to chat with your potential neighbors. What’s their opinion of the block and the neighborhood? Do they know of any problem neighbors? Are they aware of any recent car or home break-ins? Is anyone planning a big remodel that could impact other homes or their values? Do they know of someone on the block who might be getting ready to sell? An even more desirable home could be coming on the market.
2. Visit day and night, weekday and weekend
As the San Francisco example shows, don’t just visit the house during the day. Check it out at night to get a sense of what’s going on in the neighborhood after hours. Is it noisy or calm? Visit on the weekend and early morning, too. The more times of day you go, the more chances you’ll have to get the feel for the neighborhood.
3. Check out the local newspaper and the neighborhood blog
Some neighborhoods still have their own newspapers. If there’s one published for the neighborhood you’re considering, check it out for local stories. Pay particular attention to the “police blotter,” which typically lists crimes reported in the area. Also, some neighborhoods have blogs where locals ask for tips and advice, or post issues or concerns affecting the neighborhood. A Google search should help you find out whether there’s a blog for the neighborhood you’re considering.
4. Get an app
Some smartphone apps, such as CrimeReports for iPhone, provide information about crime based on your location or address. Among the problems you may see displayed on a map are noise nuisances, sex offenders and vehicle break-ins. The CrimeReports app gives you some specifics, such as when and where each incident occurred.
Zillow’s real estate apps allow you to see estimates of properties on the block. They also allow you to search recent sales or see rentals, a good indication of whether your neighbors are renters or homeowners.
5. Google the street address
If you Google the home’s street address, you might be amazed at what you find. You might, for instance, discover a nearby home-based business with employees (which could reduce street parking spaces). Using Google’s Street View, where photos can be months if not years old, you might discover that the ground-floor bedroom window once had bars on it.
Be a sleuth before the sale
The Internet is an amazing resource of information. Too often, though, potential home buyers don’t fully use it to find out everything they can before entering into a contract on a home. As soon as you’ve identified a home you want to buy, get online and do your homework. You might be pleasantly — or unpleasantly — surprised by what you learn.
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