Before you buy, you should do your homework. Homework? You thought you left that behind you years ago, didn’t you? Well, it’s back. If you’re going to buy a house, you should do some research before you buy. The more you know about your potential new home and the neighborhood that surrounds it, the more comfortable you will feel with your purchase. Nothing will compare to actually living there and learning about the area, but the more you know before you buy, the better. Your real estate agent will give you a lot of information and is a great resource, but there are some things only you can decide for yourself.
10 Things to Do Before You Buy That House
- Google it. Google both the address of the home and the neighborhood it is in. You can learn all kinds of things from a simple google search. You may discover some more photos of the home that you haven’t seen before, can look at aerial maps (what’s that large construction site behind the house?), or maybe discover some interesting information about the home (historic homes come to mind). Or maybe your potential new home was the scene of a major crime that is popping up in search results as the address was splashed all over the front page of every newspaper. Or you may come up empty handed – which is probably a good thing.
- Walk the neighborhood. Take a leisurely stroll through your neighborhood. Do it more than once, at different times of day. Hear or see anything? Hopefully, you’ll just find that your neighbors are super friendly and all is good, but you may unearth some things that you just don’t like.
- Drive to work. Start your daily commute from your new house. Is it what you expected? Many people are concerned about their commute times and it’s easy to say it’s just a short drive, but we all know how morning traffic patterns can change a 10 minute drive into a 45 minute drive.
- Investigate local shops. You can easily find the nearest Starbucks, but we’re talking about mom and pop shops here. Find the local businesses in your area and see what they have to offer. Communities are built by these local businesses, so check out what’s being offered in your area and patronize those that you like.
- View the house…again. When you first saw the house with your Realtor, you were super excited because you knew “this was the one.” Now go back and take another look after you’ve caught your breath and slowed down the excitement. Take your time. Bring a tape measure and try to visualize your furniture and other things inside the house. Draw maps and sketch out the way the home works for you. Let the kids pick their rooms. Sit in the backyard for a bit and take in the view and listen for the crazy neighbor that yells at their barking dog. All of these little things add up after you’ve lived there for awhile, so take some time to get a feel for it now.
- Research crime data. There are numerous sites you can pull crime data from. Your best resource is always the local police, but often they lack the front end user experience for the data that some other sites like crimereports.com have. Remember though, while some sites may make the data look great and easy to search through, there are often limitations of their systems and they may not have the most accurate or up to date information available.
- Make friends. If you see some of the neighbors while walking through, say hello. They might tell you more than the seller has so far. If you find the town gossip or the nosy neighbor, you may learn a whole lot more than you want. Remember though, there are two sides to every story and you may have met the grumpy old man or someone who has been in a bitter fight over a fence line with their neighbor. Listen and take it all in, but always balance it out with more information and try to get more than one take on it all. On the plus side, you may meet someone you immediately click with and discover that you’ll have a new best friend in your neighborhood.
- Research the schools. If you have children, you’ll want to check into the schools that they’ll be attending. Make sure you check with the schools themselves about boundary areas, as sometimes schools become too full and although your children would typically attend a certain school, they may be attending a different one because of school caps. Even if you don’t have kids and don’t plan to, it’s worth the time to do a bit of research of the schools as they could affect a future sale.
- Check the property taxes. Property taxes vary greatly from one area to the next, as well as from house to house, so be sure you check to see what the property taxes will be. When you look, check for the taxes without exemptions. The current homeowner may have special exemptions that you don’t qualify for, so you don’t want any surprises. It’s best to know what the full rate is, that way if you do qualify for some exemptions, your taxes will actually be lower than you thought. Now is also a good time to look at how the assessed value has changed over time – do you see large jumps in there? You may want to be prepared for a tax protest when the time window rolls around.
- Think about the long term. Yes, you can picture yourself living in the house now, but what about your future? Do you plan to have kids? Do you have an elderly parent that may be coming to live with you? Is your job going to change or is your company talking about relocating? Are there repairs that aren’t evident now, but may be on the horizon? What’s the resale value of the house? Are you paying more for this house than others are selling for in the area? What are nearby development plans? Is your home overimproved? Underimproved? Is there room for growth (both in terms of the house and in terms of the price) over time? Try and picture your life 2, 5, 10, or 20 years out. You’ll never be able to answer all of the questions, but at least taking them into consideration will help you before you buy.
image courtesy of apdk