Here's a list of a dozen frequently overlooked due-diligence issues:
Noise: Loud parties, teens with no curfews, your subdivision's late-night cut-through point, the whine of diesel engines from a nearby interstate highway ... these are few of your least favorite things. Can you hear the late-night fast-food orders coming from the drive-through lane on that main artery a block away?
Environmental issues: Sick-house syndrome, sometimes caused by hidden mold or odorless radon gas, can be vexing and render a house uninhabitable. Radon measurement professionals usually are listed in the Yellow Pages. Also, check for the proximity of power lines to your house.
Odors: Phew! What is that sulfur smell? Odors from nearby manufacturing or waste-processing plants may not have been obvious when the wind was blowing in a different direction. Visit the neighborhood on several different days to get a broader representation.
Night lights: An unnoticeable phenomenon during daylight. Will the lights from an adjacent street, business or church cast a spotlight on your bedroom window at midnight? Is there adequate lighting to make you feel safe at night?
Commute time: That suburban house is great, but will that unexpected extra half-hour commute consistently ruin your day? Time your drive to work before signing that contract.
Sex offender search: This one is big in the peace-of-mind department. The National Sex Offender Public Web site has listings for more than 40 states. Another site, KlaasKids, has an extensive databank on community-notification laws and state-by-state offender registration requirements. Also, many school districts monitor registries and send out notices when offenders move into the district.
Other crime: Police departments usually have crime data broken down by neighborhoods. Some blocks seem to be magnets for car and home break-ins, drug dealing and other illicit activities. Are there houses in the neighborhood that seem to attract a few too many nightly visitors? Do your homework.
Schools: Just because you're buying into an upscale neighborhood doesn't mean the public schools are desirable. You can get average test scores and ratings online and student-teacher ratios from the district. Consider attending a PTA meeting to talk with other parents about safety and gang issues.
Transportation: Is there a mass transit stop in a short and safe walking distance? Do cabs readily serve your area? How quickly can you get to the nearest hospital or your doctor's office?
Site survey: Make sure your property lines are accurate. The title company won't always catch discrepancies. In many cities, buying "updated" title insurance when buying a house has become a suggested standard. The reasonable fees for it are worthwhile because it covers issues that tend to cost people money, especially if you end up having to move a garage or a deck.