Friday, March 8, 2013

10 Things (er, 29 Things) to Check Before Purchasing a Home

 by NFH member "Sagebrush"

1.  In some states (and maybe all), real estate agents are not allowed to tell you which neighborhoods are good and which ones have a bad reputation.  They can’t tell you which schools are the best or where to look for the location of registered sex offenders.  It’s considered discriminatory to do that.  You have to take on this job yourself.  Some of the following suggestions will be easy for you to do at each house you look at.  For others, you may need to hire a private investigator to find out if this is a neighborhood you want to consider.  There are also websites that list the location of registered sex offenders, crime incident maps and school ratings.

2.  When initially viewing a prospective home, you’ll most likely do so during standard working hours.  If you’re interested in the home, ask your realtor to show the house again during evening hours when neighbors are more likely to be home.  Viewing the house after dark will give you a better view of any obnoxious flood lights directed at the windows as well as evening noise.  Visit at different times of the day to check out noise that carries through walls.  Can you live with this noise?

3.  If you’re looking at a condo or townhouse, look at the location of the neighboring door.  If the neighbor constantly slams that door, will it bother you?  Is the neighboring porch or patio too close to give you the privacy you want? 

4.  Avoid homes with “zero lot lines.”  This means the wall of your house is the property line of the house next door.  The next door neighbor has access to your outside wall and you may not.  Many potential problems with this type arrangement.

5.  The closer together the houses, the more likely there will be problems.  Noises don’t have far to go and can reverberate between closely spaced houses. 

6.  Long streets tend to get speeders.

7.  Beware of neighborhoods “in transition.”  It can take many years to rid a transitioning neighborhood of the scum that brought it down in the first place.  Notice how many houses appear to be neglected.  How many houses in the neighborhood are for sale?  Numerous houses for sale could indicate a problem. 

8.  If you can, ask sellers why they’re selling.

9.  Visit the neighborhood early on Saturday and/or Sunday mornings, late weeknights and any other time you’ll want peace and quiet.  Walk around the block a few times, stay a while and see if you’ll get the quiet you need.  Are there unsupervised and/or overly loud children, loitering teenagers, loud parties or garage bands?  Do you hear loud cars, barking dogs, roaming dogs, loud stereos, machinery, etc.?  Better to disrupt your sleep cycle now for a few nights or early mornings than to have your peace disrupted for years after you’ve purchased a home.  Don’t wear your earphones and if cruising around by car, turn off the radio and LISTEN!

10.  Beware the neighbor who comes over while you’re looking at the house just to see who’s looking.  He/she could be the neighborhood busybody or could be a NFH scoping out to see how much misery they can visit upon you.

11.  Watch kids getting off the school bus or walking home from school.  Are these kids misbehaving or otherwise appear to be problem kids?  How close to your prospective residence do any problem kids live?  After school, do the kids run around the neighborhood unsupervised or do they go home and do schoolwork?  Is their outdoor play loud and obnoxious or within limits you can tolerate?

12.  Check the neighbors’ yards.  Is there junk in the front, back or side yards?  Can you live with it in the long term?  If it were two or three times worse, could you live with it?  Sometimes neighbors are coerced into cleaning up until the neighboring house is sold.  Is there a fire pit?  Is it upwind or downwind of prevailing winds?  Are there trees or shrubs overhanging into your future yard?  Can you live with that?  It’s unfair to buy a property and then expect the neighbors to destroy their landscaping.  Is there a chain link fence or privacy fence?  Can you live with the lack of privacy of a chain link fence or will you have to spend the money to install a privacy fence?  Some housing developments don’t allow fences at all – can you live with this total lack of privacy?

13.  If you live somewhere with lots of winter snow, make sure you know what’s under the snow in the prospective neighbors’ yards.  See #12 above.  Look on Google Earth or some other satellite website to see into neighboring back yards.  Are they loaded with junk?  Swimming pools, trampolines, basketball hoops or skateboard ramps with lots of noise and screaming children all summer?  Lots of storage sheds, vehicles or trailers?  Do neighboring houses have out of season décor?  By itself, that might not be an issue, but with other warning signs, it may be.

14.  Look for signs of ingress/trespassing, trails leading onto the property, holes in hedges, worn/abused looking areas of fences, sheds and other property, and damaged vegetation. Look for worn down patches of lawn or flower beds along the property's perimeter (possible lurking areas).  Check well in brushy areas or anyplace that offers potential cover to covert lurkers who want to watch your private activities.

15.  If the neighborhood has an HOA, always, always get a copy of the CCR’s and Bylaws.  Look them over carefully.  What do they say about noise?  What do they say about pets, especially barking, roaming pets, etc.  Make sure you can live within these rules.  Does the board enforce the rules?  Enforcement for everyone or only for those not in favor with board members?  Also ask to see meeting minutes for the past year or more.  This could reveal problems and problem neighbors.  You may also want to look at city codes if you’re not already familiar with them – and look at the above issues.  Would another nearby community be more to your liking in regards to codes?  Are there any property easements that might be an issue down the road?  If you’re thinking of buying in an unincorporated area, check the county’s codes.  Can you live within those rules?  Do neighbors live within those rules?  Does the county enforce them?  For everyone or only those with no “connections?”

16.  Is there a vacant lot near the house or is the house on the edge of a development?  Who owns the vacant property and what are future plans for it?  Can you live with a two story house behind you with windows looking into your once private yard?  Worse, will a two or three story apartment building pop up later bringing noise, lack of privacy and possibly vandalism?  A strip mall with an all-night business?  Don’t buy next door to certain establishments such as a country club, strip mall or halfway houses.  Also stay away from houses near bus stops or intersections with stop signs.  They’re all very noisy and tend to attract undesirable neighbors.

17.  Look for signs of roaming dogs and cats such as poop in the yard, trash cans knocked over, little piles of dirt in the garden.  Will you be able to live with this?

18.  Note the number of vehicles parked around the neighboring houses.  Does this mean overcrowded houses, constant parties or is it a once-in-a-while occurrence?  Will parking near your house be an issue?  Check over several days to find out.  Will you be able to live with broken down junkers and RV’s parked in driveways (or on lawns)?  Do vehicles have current registration tags?  Are they decent cars or loud junkers?

19.  Be very wary of shared driveways – they tend to cause all sorts of neighbor disputes.

20.  Look for bumper stickers on neighbors’ cars (if parked outside garages).  That might reveal any problems.  A car plastered with a controversial political issue you don’t agree with could mean friction with that neighbor.  Bumper stickers may reveal an extremist hard to get along with.  Also look for No Trespassing signs, Beware of Dog signs and any other signs.  These could indicate a problem neighbor or neighborhood.

21.  Go by during the day to see which cars (and their owners) stay home all day and who goes to work (although some neighbors may work at night or odd shifts or work at home).  Are the stay-at-home young mothers, retirees or ne'er-do-wells who have nothing better to do but cause trouble for their neighbors?  If neighbors work a swing or graveyard shift, do they make noise when they come home or all night on their night off?

22.  Check for home based businesses.  The Secretary of State’s office will have this information.  Some home businesses are unnoticeable, others create constant traffic and noise.  When checking out the neighborhood at night, be aware of any houses in the area that have more than the usual traffic.  It could be a drug dealership.

23.  Find out who your neighbors will be in advance.  Enter the prospective address into a website like to get names and addresses surrounding the house you’re interested in.  That site may not show all renters – make a note of any addresses that don’t show an occupant and double check to see if they’re occupied.  To see who owns the houses, go to the county assessor’s office (this information is found online in some counties).  If the owner is not the same as the occupant, this search will bear out rental homes.  Are any of those rental homes under Section 8 (welfare)?  Mortgage companies balk at lending in neighborhoods with a high percentage of rental homes for a good reason.

24.  Go to the county assessor’s office and find out how often the house or surrounding houses have sold in the past few years.  High owner turnover should raise red flags.

25.  Some states have judicial court records online and you can search for prospective neighbors’ names to find things from traffic violations to arrest and prison records.  Do a Google search on the names, addresses, phone numbers (if you can obtain them) and see what comes up – you might find where the neighbors work, what organizations they belong to, etc.  Check the sex offender registry to see if any registered sex offenders live nearby.

26.  Some cities will give information on police calls and crime in the area you’re considering.  Some cities even have this information online.  In other cases, you can file a Freedom of Information Act request for police activity on the block or street, and/or at addresses specifically surrounding your targeted new home.

27.  It’s legal in most states to take someone’s trash once it’s out on the curb.  Some of the best information about neighbors is in discarded paperwork.  Numerous alcohol containers may indicate problems.  Best time to go dumpster diving is in the wee hours of the morning, so be very quiet (including well muffled vehicle and radio turned off).  If neighbors are still up at that hour making noise, you definitely want to scratch that neighborhood off your list.

28.  If this all seems too daunting to you, hire a private investigator to check out the neighbors.  Do keep in mind, though, that many NsFH operate just barely this side of the law and nothing untoward will show up on a search.

29.  So the neighborhood and neighbors have passed the test.  You’re not out of the woods yet.  Be wary of the first neighbors to welcome you to the neighborhood.  They could be the nicest neighbors you could ask for, but they could be in a hurry to scope you out to see just how much they can get away with before you snap.  Down the road, someone in the neighborhood is bound to sell to a NFH.

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