Inspect the neighbourhood
In today's overheated housing market, buyers are tempted
to finalize property purchases quickly -- no one wants an appealing
house and a good mortgage deal to slip through their fingers.
But if that red-hot house turns out to be sitting
on the major route to the city dump, you could get burned. So take
a deep breath and make sure your prospective home-sweet-home is
truly in a location you can live with.
"The challenge in today's real estate market
is finding the time to research your property," says Sylvana
Chambers of Chambers Developments Inc., in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.
"The buyer is under pressure to make a quick decision."
You're buying more than a house
In most cases, you can scope out your new neighbourhood at the same
time you take a closer look at the house itself.
Drive by your home-to-be at different hours of the
day to get a sense of the community. Spend some time just hanging
out. Then drive to your job or to the school your children will
If the house is vacant, ask if
you can sleep over one night to find out how quiet or noisy the
neighbourhood is in the evening.
Talk to your would-be neighbours. They can tell you
whether the area is on the local airport's most direct flight path.
Or, if the city plans to widen the road, whether you'll wake up
one day to a huge chunk gone from your front lawn.
And current residents, as well as your community's
police service, can fill you in on crime rates for the neighbourhood.
Zero in on zoning
Don't stop with the neighbours and the police.
Check in with the local planning department. Will that little cabin
in the woods you have your eye on be surrounded by a huge subdivision
next year? The planning folks can tell you what sort of zone your
prospective home is in.
Out west, for instance, wide-open spaces usually
mean little or no government oversight.
So, a nearby rancher could put in a smelly pig farm
or the failing neighbourhood restaurant might become a strip club
and no one will say "boo."
In addition, mineral rights
may not convey with rural properties. In these cases, if someone
else owns the mineral rights and they decide to lease them, you
could end up with drilling equipment in your backyard with little
or no say in the matter.
Calver recommends speaking
to three or four residents who can reveal more about a neighbourhood.
Be candid and ask, "What should I know? Is this a nice area?"
He adds that if you speak with local groups and associations, they
often know everyone in the area and can tell you if there is a history
of problems with plumbing, etc.
Differing disclosure laws
Provincial and territorial laws differ on how
much information a seller is obliged to disclose to a potential
buyer. In Nova Scotia, for example, as in many provinces, the obligation
is complex and difficult to interpret. "There is a requirement
that the seller completes a property disclosure statement,"
outlining physical aspects of the property, says Chambers.
"However, other more subtle issues -- such as
noisy neighbours, adjacent orchard spraying or a poor school system
-- are really issues that the buyers, working with a trustworthy
agent, will have to learn for themselves."
It isn't mandatory for an agent to ask sellers for
information they have on changes in local zoning, noise pollution,
airport proximity, road widening, waste treatment and other possible
residential nightmares. But if a buyer asks for this information,
a seller must provide it.
"In Canada, there is latent versus patent disclosure,"
says Bob Linney, communications director for the Canadian Real Estate
Association in Ottawa. "One is concrete and is known about;
the other is called stigmatized that is a rumour, for example, that
a quarry is being built down the street. Those are tough to disclose
where there is no obvious knowledge. Again, until an actual application
is made (for zoning changes) you can't expect them to disclose it.
That is constantly the dilemma you can get caught in."
If your agent doesn't offer such protections as a
matter of course, be sure to ask for a disclosure agreement to give
you a fair picture of what you're buying.
Calver says he's never encountered a situation when
sellers have deceived people into buying a home. He says that's
largely because sellers realize they could face legal action.
"There's a certain 'buyer beware' attitude,"
he says. If you've had an inspection and there are no termites or
major problems, "it's difficult to come back to an agent and
say, 'You didn't tell me about this truck that goes by the house
A home buyer in a province with fewer purchaser-friendly
statutes might face an uphill battle. So to prevent unexpected surprises
after you move in, carefully inspect your new neighbourhood, as
well as your home, before you sign the contract.