Things to look for

dreambuilderSeptember 29, 2012

I'm making a list of things to check for when looking at existing homes, please feel free to tell me what I'm missing:

1. sex offender's in area/check registry

2. check for power lines/transformers

3. check neighbors for boats/large trucks/etc. in driveways

4. check for dangerous dogs/loud dogs

5. check with police to see how often they are called to area--types of crimes

I know some of these things are hit and miss as someone could obviously move in with a giant pitbull or boat, etc..but would be nice to know prior to moving in if there was an existing problem. I ask since a friend recently bought a home and then discovered they had a sex offender for a neighbor. What else can you think of?

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I wouldn't buy a house without visiting the neighborhood at night to see how different the area was from daylight.

I know someone who was thinking about buying a large rural tract. She liked it a lot, but it was a bit more than she wanted to spend and she was little hesitant. The seller's realtor told her to "sleep on it." So she went home, packed up her tent and her dog and drove right out there that evening to do exactly that. And came back the next day with her deposit check in hand.

OTOH, when we bought this farm, I did visit and walk along the dirt road that leads to it at night. All was quiet and very dark, which was what I was hoping for. The first night we arrived after dark from the closing and just as we crested the hill to look down on our little valley, an outdoor light shone out on the next ridge over. Damn! It turned out that the neighbor (more than a mile away) had just got around to replacing the burnt-out light bulb in his tenant's dooryard fixture that afternoon. So you never know.

I would never consider doing most of the checks you describe, except for the power lines which would be obvious I would think. Sex offenders, boats, dogs and petty crime aren't something that would concern me at all, perhaps because I live in a very rural area. All of them are pretty much normal out here in the sticks.


    Bookmark   September 30, 2012 at 1:01AM
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OMG!! Look for trees - especially a neighbors tree with branches that hang over your roofline that you will be responsible for trimming unless you'd like to clean your gutters every week and watch it's weak branches sway threateningly over your tile roof on every windy day. Look for roots that cause your concrete patio to crack. Look for trees that shoot suckers out everywhere and try to wrap themselves around your gas line. Look for a nasty flower dropping, foul smelling, leaf shedding, weak branched hideous demon tree called a Bradford pear and if you see any - RUN!!! Please don't ask me how I know.

On a serious note - don't just look at the house. A house can be changed. A neighbor or neighborhood isn't easy to change. That's what you have to look out for. Make sure there aren't a lot of renter occupied houses in the area. Check the school districts. Get the crime stats from the police dept. Unless you are very familiar with the area, rent before you buy. I wish we would have! Good luck!

    Bookmark   September 30, 2012 at 2:43AM
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Circus Peanut

LOL @ demon Bradford pear!

As few rentals as possible in the block around you, definitely.

Look for parking patterns - how busy is the street, parking-wise, and where do the neighbors regularly park? (We love the house we just bought, but turns out the neighbors across the street have a few grown children living with them, and each has a car, so our front always has cars parked along it. Perfectly legal and OK, but we can't often just swing in and park there ourselves for a quick run into the front door.)

Check out the property after a really heavy rain - is there local flooding or run-off? Always nice to get lakefront property without paying for it, but still ... ;-)

    Bookmark   September 30, 2012 at 9:18AM
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I can only speak for my town (a suburb of Chicago), but knowing what I know, if I were looking for a house I would google the town/neighborhood and see what comes up. Are there local online message boards or news outlets (we have one of each) and also the Chicago Tribune has a spin off called TribLocal with news stories that people submit about the town. What are the pending town/neighborhood issues? What are people upset or excited about? Would those issues affect you (maybe you are buying to your financial limit, but the town is holding a school referendum that, if it passes, would raise property taxes beyond your comfort zone, etc)?

You may be able to find out more about town dynamics - is there a "better" side of the tracks? Read about town ordinances - some places are very lax, others monitor every fence post and tree limb cut.

In my town, our local issues are electric aggregation and we just had a big bru-ha-ha over lighting up a high school practice field. The neighbors around the field were livid that there would now be noise, lights and traffic until almost 10:00pm. I know you can't predict the future, but I'd hate to have bought a house in the area without knowing that was on the horizon, if it were the type of thing to bother me (which it wouldn't have been, but it was a huge problem for a lot of people).

You can tell a lot about a town by it's current issues. I mean, honestly, looking at my town, if the biggest drama in town is that they are lighting up a practice field - that to me would say that there aren't a lot of big problems!

    Bookmark   September 30, 2012 at 3:41PM
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Lol! Not a fan of the Bradford pear either.

I'd pull up Google Maps or something and look to see what is around you. If you move in next to a facility that smells bad or is polluting, your problem, not theirs.

Look to see if there is any vacant land that someone could come in and build on. If they own it, they can build it and too bad for you.

Peek into the neighbor's yards. Are they sloping towards yours? You get their runoff if they are.

Check for extension cords and outlets. We looked at a house that had extension cords all over the basement. The carriage lights were not wired into the system, they were plugged into the garage. This was supposed to be a highly desireable house.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2012 at 3:55PM
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This probably only applies to urban neighborhoods, but especially here in CA, there are a lot of neighborhood chat groups on Yahoo. Anyone can come in and read them, but to join you have to be approved by the group moderator.

If it's an active group (ours certainly is, LOL) you can get a very clear idea of the issues people raise in skimming over a couple of months' worth of archives.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2012 at 4:48PM
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Oh... I almost forgot... If you are in California, peek over your neighbors fence to make sure there's no marijuana growing in the yard. Check for the pot stores around your neighborhood, too. (Since it's apparently legal to grow now even if you have a Dr's note for a toothache!) Even the nice ritzy parts of town have them. Don't ask me how I know. :(. You'd think I lived in a ghetto but I don't! I swear! Just check for pot - you'll be happy you did on windy days!!!

And don't forget about the Bradford pears - they will suck the life and bank account out of you! Demon spawn trees....

    Bookmark   September 30, 2012 at 6:53PM
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Go to the local grocery store and observe the shoppers. These are the people who will be living in the area.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2012 at 7:52PM
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Good list. I'd also add...

- What are the schools like? (Even if you don't have kids, your future buyers might.)

- Is there easy access to transportation (e.g., train to the nearest city) or to highways? What will your commute be like?

- Can you walk to town, schools, library, etc? Or will you be married to your car for every errand and school visit?

- What are the taxes like? (We have awesome schools but they're supported by our high property taxes.) How is the solvency of the town/village/school district? (See if you can get annual reports from the town and the school district.) Are they running on fumes or do they have a good reserve? Is there a good tax base from local retail businesses, or is most of the local funding from homeowner property taxes?

- Are there parks, forest preserves, or other natural open areas nearby that you can enjoy? Are there sidewalks so you can take a walk in the neighborhood?

    Bookmark   October 1, 2012 at 9:11PM
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I'd suggest you actually test drive your commute. It might surprise you...

    Bookmark   October 3, 2012 at 4:48PM
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Check the neighborhood during rush hour to see if your quiet street is a busy street with commuter short cuts, etc.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2012 at 2:17AM
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You might want to hang out there for 24 hours, lol. The street next to ours is very busy during school drop-off and pick-up because many parents park there and turn around there. One time I tried to get into my subdivision using that street and it was like a log jam during rush hour, crazy!

And if you have young kids you might want to be aware of swimming pools, ponds, lakes, ditches, canals, etc. in the area.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2012 at 5:19AM
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    Bookmark   October 6, 2012 at 11:35AM
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Pick up the local newspapers, go to the market look at the ads. Google the town on the internet. Go to the Post Office. Look at parks, community buildings, libraries, senior centers etc.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2012 at 12:38PM
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Check with City/County/State planning boards & review any future roadway plans--you don't want to buy & then find out that construction is due to start on a brand new 6 lane loop in your backyard!

Talk with the neighbors--just knock on doors or stop and talk with them if they're out in the yard working or playing. You can learn a lot by doing so.

Check for any easements on your property--the previous owner may have given permission for a power line, water or sewer line easement that is not in place yet, but planned for future development some time down the road.

If the property is in the county, what are the city's plans for possible annexation in the future?

Is there an HOA agreement in place? Are there regular meetings? If so, find out the HOA dues, how often they're paid, what are the requirements/restrictions on your property use according to the HOA agreement, see if you can get your hands on previous meetings' minutes--often many violations & complaints that may affect you can be found in those minutes.

In lieu of an HOA, what are the neighborhood covenants and restrictions? How will they impact your use of the property? You'd hate to build an awesome treehouse for your kids and then have to tear it down because it violates the neighborhood or HOA covenants. Or worse yet, your vehicle violates the covenants (i.e. delivery truck (i.e. candy bar sales/bread truck/etc, box truck (often used by construction workers or tool sales, big rig, tow truck, etc.) Some even have a limitation on how many cars ou can have in the driveway! Covenants may limit size or even existence of outbuildings. Maybe someone in the family wants to restore an old car--many restrict even that. So bottom line, definitely check out any restrictions/covenants.

Hope this helps!

    Bookmark   October 7, 2012 at 1:31PM
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One of the clues for neighborhoods I have used for over 30 years is the presence of things like new cars.

A neighborhood full of nothing but beaters is giving you a clue about the residents.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2012 at 2:13PM
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Godd Suggestions from posters. Here is mine, in general:
Check the neighborhood for:

1. Cars... upkept, newer, not broken down in driveway...
2. Landscaping... upkept, healthy, nice looking grass.
3. House Exterior... paint maintained, vinyl washed and replaced when needed, roofs replaced when needed.

Generally, if these thre things are looking good, then it is a stable neighborhood. If not, then it well could be a neighborhood where owners overextended themselves during the good times and now can not keep up with the minimal maintenance of home ownership.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2012 at 7:59AM
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agree with ladynimue... A few years ago our school district consolidated bus stops to save money. Those poor people who live on corner lots now have up to 25 kids trampling their lawns and parent cars parked up and down the street in bad weather.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2012 at 9:07AM
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We live where there is usually an HOA. I would always try to do as much of the following as possible:

1. Read the restrictions and any amendments before even making an offer. This caused us cross several houses off our lists.

2. Look for a subdivision or HOA or POA website. We often found things posted such as proposed amendments to restrictions or minutes of HOA meeting where we would find out what was going on in the subdivision. For example, we found one subdivision where they were talking about flooding problems. Another talked about how a nearby city was trying to annex the subdivision. The might be able to hold it off but was obviously a future concern. Some raised issues that caused us to think that the HOA was a pain to deal with so we crossed them off the list.

3. Google the subdivision name. Check out what is on city-data. Look for any discussion forums or blogs that might talk about the subdivision or the builder.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2012 at 2:52PM
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Just avoid the HOA areas.

It makes life a lot easier.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2012 at 6:36PM
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>It makes life a lot easier.


Here is a link that might be useful: small landscaping dilemma

    Bookmark   October 8, 2012 at 6:50PM
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