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Top 10 things home buyers overlook

Dear Reader,
When preparing to buy a house, most people today carefully check details concerning purchase contracts, financing, negotiations, inspections and closings.

But there are many things people overlook in this hectic process -- particularly in the neighborhood itself. Such things include neighborhood culture, commercial zoning proximity, noise pollution and quality of neighbors.

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Going into a brand new year of real estate buying, here then, are the top 10 things I find prospective homeowners overlook when researching a home.

  • Governmental authority: Is the house within the city or town you think it is? Don't be so sure. You may think you know, but if you're one street outside the boundary, you could be in for a shock. Different municipalities mean different laws, zoning, police and fire protection, water supply, trash and sewer services -- or none of the above.
  • Nearby zoning: A big-box mega-store or shopping center may be penciled in for that nice vacant corner lot down the block where kids are now playing ball. Buyers in both new and established subdivisions have been stunned to discover that a long-fallow commercially zoned lot will soon give way to a high-traffic, 24-hour-a-day retail site, with frequent truck visits and too-bright lights. Use a buyer's real estate agent and ask for details about nearby non-residential zoning and what could be built on it. Check with the city planning department or zoning board to determine what uses are allowable on the land.
  • Homeowner associations: Is there a neighborhood association? If so, is that desirable for you? There may be dues to pay and required memberships in social or athletic clubs. Also, the powers of these associations vary greatly. Make sure you get a full written set of the documents, rules and regulations. Again, talk with other residents to find out how strictly or laxly the rules are enforced and whether that fits your personal philosophy. The positive trade-offs are more consistent code compliance and a more cooperative atmosphere. But there may be restrictions you don't agree with.
  • Culture: Are your prospective neighbors in your age range and demographic? Is there diversity with respect to income, education and religion? Will you fit in? Are there a lot of rental homes around? Remember that poorly maintained homes can drag down neighborhood values. Visit at different hours of the day to get a sense of the community. Spend some time just hanging out. If the house is vacant, ask if you can sleep over one night to find out how quiet or noisy the neighborhood is in the evening. Talk to your would-be neighbors. They can tell you whether the area's on the local airport's most direct flight path or if the city plans to widen the road.
  • Safety/crime: Sometimes, sellers are escaping from escalating crime or the presence of a sex offender or other unsavory elements in the neighborhood. In most states, an agent has no legal obligation to disclose to a potential buyer that a sex offender or other convicted criminal lives nearby. For links to listings of registered sex offenders in your community, go to the FBI's state sex offender registry or call your local law-enforcement agency for a local report. Your law-enforcement agency can also provide you with crime statistics in your targeted neighborhood. Most have some kind of crime-analysis or crime-prevention unit. Ask how frequent break-ins and car thefts are in your area or ZIP code and where the trouble spots are.
  • Noise pollution: Make several visits to your prospective neighborhood at different times of day and especially night. Sometimes the bad seeds only bloom in the evening. Does the neighborhood band strike up at midnight on Friday? Are there frequent parties or houses that attract a few too many nightly visitors? Are there loud barking dogs left out all night? Strike up a friendly chat with a neighbor or two down the block and get the real story. Can you hear the amplified voice of an order-taker at a fast food restaurant's drive-through lane?
  • Comparative size: In terms of resale potential, it's better to buy the smallest home in a block of bigger homes than it is to buy the biggest home in a block of smaller ones. The big-home neighborhood is likely to bolster its smallest home's resale value. But the small-home neighborhood may drag down its largest home's value.
  • Traffic: Is the subdivision used as a major cut-through for motorists or is the nearby street used as a teen drag-strip on weekend nights? Can you hear the whining of 18-wheelers on the nearby interstate highway at all hours? Visit the neighborhood early in the morning and drive to your job and to the school your children will attend.
  • Odors: The smells from nearby manufacturing plants or waste-processing facilities may not be apparent when the wind is not blowing in a certain direction. Visit the neighborhood on several different days to get a broader representation.
  • Un-neighborly lighting: Do the lights of an adjacent street, business or church illuminate your yard like a spotlight? On the flip side, are the street lights on your block ample enough to make you feel secure at night?

50 great financial strategies for 2005


-- Posted: December 29, 2004

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