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.
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
great financial strategies for 2005