Talking to the neighbors pre-purchase. Do you?

DLM2000February 1, 2012

If you talk to neighbors when you have an interest in a house, what do you ask? Do you get valuable insight? What kinds of subjects are appropriate and are there any off limits areas? Is your interest in what the neighbor can tell you, or is this a way to see who your neighbors might be? As a neighbor, have you ever been approached by the potential buyer? What did they ask you? Is there a situation where you would be less than truthful or spin things to either be more positive or negative than the reality?

I'm not certain any of this will apply to us as buyers because we are hoping to have a bit of land this time around. There will be neighbors, of course, but I don't know if there will be an actual 'neighborhood' IYKWIM. This move will take us out of state and it's very difficult to get a 'feel' for a place over a few weekend expeditions so anything we can do that gives us information is a plus.

I appreciate any insight you can offer.

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Not that I can ever remember.

But then anyone that can afford to live in the places I have had personal residences is not about to let them go to hell.

A knockdown house runs about $500,000.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2012 at 4:11PM
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We are looking at houses in Florida and we have chatted with neighbors on occasion. Florida real estate is quite different from NY as many homes are flips or bank owned. I like to ask a neighbor how long a house has been vacant or anything else I can find out about the house. Neighbors have been very forthcoming with information on these houses. These empty houses put quite a strain on the homeowners in the neighborhood.

We've heard some horror stories about these homes.

I don't think we've spoken to a neighbor about a house that is still occupied. I assume the homeowner and neighbor are friends and wouldn't expect to get honest info.


    Bookmark   February 1, 2012 at 8:27PM
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We talked to the ptential neighbours at a bunch of developments before we decided to build in one where our new home is under construction. We asked if they were happy with the build quality of their house, what the make up of the neighbourhood is (we have kids and wanted to live somewhere that was kid friendly), what neighbourhood activities there are, how they felt about the neighbourhood school and bus service, what they liked best and least about living there...all sorts of things. Everyone we talked to was really nice and helpful and I was pleased to find out it was a quite close knit neighbourhood with a local Facebook page where people borrow items, post activities and yard sales, notify neighbours of any concerns, etc.

I wouldn't buy a home without talking to people in the neighbourhood first!

    Bookmark   February 1, 2012 at 8:37PM
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brickeyee I don't see the relevance of purchase price. Property maintenance would not be the only thing to question. Homes in my current neighborhood exceed that price point (some far exceed) and exterior maintenance is not necessarily relative to home value. And of course, what you see outside gives no clue as to what (or who) is inside.

jane__ny - That does sound like FL is a housing market unto itself. I wouldn't necessarily expect to get any info from a neighbor about the marketed house if it's still occupied for just the reason you said. Learning about the house would be my responsibility, but I wondered if there would be other valuable insight.

happyafwife I really like that approach of asking what they like best and what they like least - simple, straighforward and open to absolutely anything they choose to share. Great idea! Your neighborhood sounds lovely - very Mayberry, USA :-)

    Bookmark   February 2, 2012 at 8:42AM
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"brickeyee I don't see the relevance of purchase price. Property maintenance would not be the only thing to question. Homes in my current neighborhood exceed that price point (some far exceed) and exterior maintenance is not necessarily relative to home value. And of course, what you see outside gives no clue as to what (or who) is inside. "

Owners of expensive homes rarely seem to let them fall into disrepair.

"And of course, what you see outside gives no clue as to what (or who) is inside. "

Who cares?
Are you so nosy you want to know about what folks do inside their houses? glad you are not my neighbor.


Look around the neighborhood for newer vehicles and well maintained landscaping.

If a stranger came to my door asking questions they would be asked to leave immediately, and if they refused would be explain to the police why they did not leave as asked, and then ordered.

It is called private property for a reason.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2012 at 9:17AM
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Brickeyee wrote; "If a stranger came to my door asking questions they would be asked to leave immediately, and if they refused would be explain to the police why they did not leave as asked, and then ordered."

I guess the potenial new neighbor would lear that you weren't very 'neighborly'.

We do try talk to the neighbors before a home purchase.

We have learned tidbits that were helpful during the negotiation process...such as the seller always having problems with the heating system (something that did not show up during the home inspection). We also have learned that the county deputies do a great job. they take the time to get to know the people in the areas they patrol.

We also met some very nice people, who have become wonderful friends.


    Bookmark   February 2, 2012 at 10:18AM
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Newer vehicles mean nothing here in the LA area where tiny ranches in top school districts sell for $1.5+ mill. My area also has many Chinese and Korean families and many like to have new cars, but aren't too preoccupied with the upkeep of their real estate - cultural differences.

We have always walked around the neighborhood and talked to local residents. No one has ever been rude, quite the opposite, most volunteer extra information.

Many years ago we were looking to build and rang doorbells at houses that we liked and asked about their architect & builder. Not only did they answer our questions, but 98% gave us tours of the homes.

My experience is that 99% of people are happy to help another person in this situation, so don't be afraid to approach a future neighbor. Dress nicely and bring your well behaved kids!

    Bookmark   February 2, 2012 at 11:17AM
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Just wow.

"Are you so nosy you want to know about what folks do inside their houses? "

That's really what you got from my comment? sigh. brickeyee, beyond my voyeuristic interest in decorating (which would not be my mission in speaking with neighbors), I don't care what goes on in your home or anyone else's. The home next door to me is falling into major disrepair, in and out - it would be obvious to anyone looking, but the reason behind it would not and most people in the neighborhood probably could/would enlighten a potential buyer if asked about it. As a result,I thought there would be insight to be gained from the experience of others. Period, end of story. No need to attach more to it than that, 'neighbor'.

maddielee that's interesting that a neighbor offered info on the heating system - I would not expect that kind of disclosure but it certainly gave you a heads up. With your mention of county deputies, it sounds as if you may be more rural than suburban/urban with large lots or acreage. Do you think that may have been why a neighbor felt free to speak about the heating? Not having neighbors side by side by side will be new territory for me, and one of the reasons I initially posted.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2012 at 11:20AM
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Dlm, not rural at all. Huge subdivision right outside City (Tampa) police terrority.

The neighbors may have been more open about what they knew about the house because it was a Foreclosure? Before the bank took it back it had been a rental. The renters had told the neighbors about the problems with the heating.

We have bought a couple Foreclosures. I don't think we would ever buy a house without talking to the neighbors.

When we purchased the house that we are living in, over 30 years, talking to the neighbors helped us make the decision because they were able to fill us in on things that were important to us at the time. Schools, traffic, noise, threat of creatures (gators in the river), things that parents of young children would be interested in. We're lucky, most of our neighbors are still here.


    Bookmark   February 2, 2012 at 12:39PM
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It's a great idea to talk to neighbors and I always try to. Try to let them talk. People love to talk. I usually get into a long chat-fest with them and learn tons of info. It took me six months to close on this place because my own house deals kept falling through and the neighbors were worried that we weren't going to buy it afterall. We moved in and had friends already!

If you're moving to the country, definitely talk to the neighbors. There is less regulation out in the country and the worst neighbors I ever had was when I lived out in the middle of nowhere on 53 acres in Virginia. Even though my nearest neighbor was a mile down the road, everyone in the whole town knew about the bad neighbors. They were known as the "Evils." If only I had talked to someone before buying that place! We actually had to move because of them. Some of the things they did to us: they vandalized, harassed, robbed, assaulted, and killed our dogs. You would think it was a movie if you heard the whole story. Do not relax like I did when I moved to the country. I thought, oh, how wonderful this is! It's like the Walton's! Not necessarily. Stay on your toes and talk to the neighbors.

(For those of you who followed my last move, I'm talking about a different place. THAT place I just sold has wonderful neighbors.)

    Bookmark   February 3, 2012 at 11:36PM
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I guess I can sort of see how talking to neighbors could be helpful. That said, I can't quite picture how I would go about it. We just put an offer in on a house and I confess we talked to no neighbors. We saw the house once and drove around the neighborhood but it would have felt really weird to go knock on the neighbor's doors....

There are some things I typically do to research houses I'm interested in. I do an internet search on the subdivision. Often I find discussions on the city-data forum that are illuminating or sometimes find news articles or blog posts. On one subdivision there had obviously been a lot of dissension in the HOA and there was a blog and a forum and all sorts of info out there.

Sometimes the subdivision itself has a web site. Some of these password everything and limit it to members but many do not. For example, on several I found years worth of HOA meeting minutes or HOA newsletters which I found interesting and gave a feel for the general ambiance of the area.

I also did look up real property records on specific houses I was interested in and have sometimes found interesting information. Where the amount of money that a seller owes on a house is available it sometimes can be helpful.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2012 at 12:08AM
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I've talked to the neighbors a couple times before making an offer on a house. Most people are pretty friendly and helpful, and will sometimes warn you about some issues you hadn't even thought of. Buying a house is a big decision, and sometimes it helps to talk to someone "already on the inside". It's easy to look at nice cars and landscaping - but that doesn't always tell the whole story. So the neighbor drives a fancy car. Who cares - he could also be a real intolerable jerk. When I buy a house, I am doing more than just buying the house itself - I am buying into a neighborhood. I want to make sure I am surrounded by a bunch of decent people.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2012 at 2:20PM
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We have always talked to the neighbors in potential neighborhoods especially the neighbors 1 to 2 doors down and directly across the street from the house we are looking at. We would cruise through the neighborhood in the morning, when school lets out, and in the evening between 5 & 7 to see how the neighborhood "lived". As we saw neighbors outside, we would simply stop, introduce ourselves as potential buyers of the house for sale and ask some questions--i.e. tell me about the neighborhood--is it quiet, do they do block parties, how long have they lived there, are there lots of kids & what ages (I make sure to mention my kids' ages or have my kids with me), is it a good neighborhood for (insert whatever you're looking for i.e. young couples starting out, young families, empty nesters, etc), how is the HOA to deal with, do they know the history behind the house I'm looking at or anything about it, (that last question saved us on a couple different houses), does Domino's deliver, is cable available in that area or is it limited to satellite, etc. I think if you don't see how the neighborhood lives & talk with the people who live there before making your decision you could end up disappointed at the very least and absolutely miserable at the worst.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2012 at 3:22AM
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When the folks around a house see someone seriously looking, you usually don't have to go knocking on doors. They're as interested in you as you are in them. They have more of a stake in who lives next door than you do. They'e already got money invested. Sometimes it's so obvious it's funny. The rugs get shaken, the dog goes out for a walk.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2012 at 6:57PM
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I laughed to myself over your post.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2012 at 5:26AM
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Thank you all for these great suggestions.

LoveInTheHouse - your post is a real eye opener! So easy to think space = idyllic and obviously your experience was anything but.

HOA's will not be an issue (famous last words!) since we are not looking in any subdivisions.

Calliope that is so true! Guilty as charged - I started pulling weeds in the garden when the young couple across the street came back for repeat showings!! It was partly curiosity but also wanting to see if they had any 'neighborhood questions' and make it easier for them to ask since they would likely be our neighbors. They did buy and I think our initial meetings set the tone for an easy, friendly neighbor relationship.

We are heading to NC for another reconnaissance mission, as I like to call it. Will be looking at houses/neighborhoods and narrowing down where we want to be, but not with an eye towards picking a house yet - still too early. Makes me feel guilty - I really hate the idea of getting a seller's hopes up but we need to compare prices and what you get in differing locations. The weather is turning ugly just as we get there - figures - or I'd spend time walking around to see if neighbors are out and about.

Thanks again -

    Bookmark   February 9, 2012 at 12:24PM
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I've purchased several homes in areas I was familiar with and did not talk to the neighbors. However, I did purchase a vacation home once in an area I was not familiar with. Thank goodness we did! We were ready to put in an offer and went back to walk around the property one more time (lake front, without the realtor). We talked to a neighbor who during the conversation mentioned that side of the lake had 12 feet of silt! You could not swim or boat or do anything you would want to do on that part of the lake! This was something known to all who lived in that lake community but something the realtor chose not to share!

Owners of expensive homes rarely seem to let them fall into disrepair.

Laughable! I have seen mobile homes that were maintained to perfection and million dollar homes that I wouldnt let my dog live in! Home maintenance has NOTHING to do with the price of a home, its all about the people that live in it.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2012 at 4:22PM
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Yeah, there is a house in my neighborhood that would probably be priced in the $7 mill range if it was for sale ... it looks sad and abandoned, the grass is a crispy brown, but I do see a Rolls Royce in the driveway sometimes! They aren't spending any money on curb appeal!

    Bookmark   February 9, 2012 at 7:25PM
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If you are visiting the Charlotte area, let me know and I can help you out in getting to know the areas here.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2012 at 5:36AM
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Before buying into my coop apartment building, I did speak to some of the residents. It turned out to be an excellent experience. I had realistic expectations after gathering more information, and it was nice to see some familiar faces after I moved into the building.

True, by talking to your potential new neighbor, you might run into a grump, but isn't even that experience helpful? At least you'd know that Mr. or Ms. Grumpy (or Mr. AND Mrs. Grumpy!) live 2 doors down, and you'd have 1 more piece of information for your home buying decision process. I say go for it.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2012 at 6:00AM
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Linda117 that's been our experience up to now - we've lived in 2 homes (4 blocks apart) in a Chicago suburb for 30 years so our move didn't require a lot of investigating. And we both grew up in other nearby suburbs so family is here, too. Good thing you found out about that lake - what a disappointment that could have been!

Chispa that's kind of the situation with the house next door to me although it's not a 7 mil house even on a good day. Will make for a challenge when we are selling :-(

Polie that's true - even grumpy is information!

ncrealestateguy - if we were looking in the Charleston area I would absolutely take you up on that but our move will be to the outlying area of Asheville. Thank you for the offer though and if you happen to have any info on that area, I'm all ears.


    Bookmark   February 10, 2012 at 8:01AM
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Owners of expensive homes rarely seem to let them fall into disrepair.

I live in what is considered the best neighborhood in town. We wanted to live in this neighborhood so that we would have neighbors who care and love their homes. My next door neighbor (executive at the local hospital no less) has a backyard that makes Sanford and Son's junk yard look like an English garden! Unfortunately, because of the way they sited their house and the slope of the land, even the privacy fence doesn't hide their yard from ours.

Hillbillies come in all shapes, sizes and socio-economic status.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2012 at 8:53AM
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