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Retirement real estate—what did you ask before buying?
Old 09-18-2011, 01:17 AM   #1
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Retirement real estate—what did you ask before buying?

I recently started to look at real estate listings, mostly just to check out what's available in the area I plan to move to after retiring, but one of the properties I found online is looking very promising, and the price is low enough I might be able to buy it even before selling my current house. It's a large city lot that used to have a house on it. The house has been torn down but there is still a garage there. It's gotten past the first couple of screens—not in the floodplain, water, electricity and gas in the street. I'm asking everyone I can think of what else I need to find out. The questions I have come up with so far are:
  • Is there a sewer in the street? (listing just says water, gas & electricity in street).
  • Which way does the land slope and how steep is it? Does it have good photovoltaic potential?
  • Are either of the old foundations in good enough condition to use for a new house?
  • What is the zoning? Is anything I want to use the property for against the rules?
  • Is the title clear? It's bank owned—could be a foreclosure or a reverse mortgage that reverted to bank on the death of the borrower. (I got this one from another thread at E-R )
My dad added:
  • More detailed utility checks: are there street lights, where is the nearest fire hydrant? Can I get broadband?
  • Health & safety: is there a hospital, fire station, police station nearby?
  • Convenience: where is the nearest grocery, hardware store, gas station, bank etc?
  • Feel of the neighborhood: are the houses well maintained or run-down? Is there graffiti? Rubbishy vacant lots?
  • Estimated yearly expenses for the lot as is? That would include property taxes and ?? homeowner's insurance on the garage?
It looks pretty promising for the questions I can answer without going there. I will need to make some phone calls next week about those first few items, and I'm planning to drive down there and check it out next weekend. What else do I need to find out before deciding whether to make an offer?
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Old 09-18-2011, 06:34 AM   #2
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Besides checking on the details of the lot, I'd check on the neighbors. Is the next door neighbor insane or a hoarder with a few hundred cats inside? An easy excuse to knock on their door is to ask about the old house, why it was torn down, or who owned it, etc. Also ask them what they think of the neighborhood and other people there. Granted you only get a few minutes of face time, but it is an opportunity to meet the people you will have to tolerate later.
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Old 09-18-2011, 07:17 AM   #3
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I would ask if there is a home owners association or any covenients that would protect/restrict (depending on your point of view) how you can use the land. Also, the value of the surrounding homes to ensure you are not building the most expensive home in the neighborhood.
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Old 09-18-2011, 08:01 AM   #4
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Most of the services can all be seen on Google street & aerial view...also Bing birds-eye view. You should be able to see manhole covers for sewer (sanitary and storm), see water valves on the properties, see pedestals or poles showing you CableTV, Phone & power. See gas meters on sides of houses. Can pick up on all kinds of other info..like large dog houses, how well properties are maintained, etc.

You'd be able to take a virtual tour of the area also and see some things you may not realize are there...like right of ways, rail tracks, various industrial complexes, etc.

Zillow.com will also provide a lot of info...like what all the adjacent properties sold for and when...a walking/driving score (ie, how far to stores, schools, hospitals, etc). You can even get info on area pedophiles.

I also have looked at some areas and after a few hours of research, I know the area very well, but have yet to even visit.
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Old 09-18-2011, 08:11 AM   #5
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Definitely need a clear title to this one. Or rather, you definitely want title insurance.

Why was the place torn down? Decrepitude is one issue. Mold or fire or earthquake might be workable. Violent crime or exploding meth lab would be quite another.

If you buy the place then you have to carry it. This would include keeping the lot clean & mowed, paying property taxes, and having liability insurance for owning an attractive nuisance. You might even have garage-squatter problems.

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Originally Posted by kyounge1956 View Post
... and the price is low enough I might be able to buy it even before selling my current house.
I wonder if the price reflects the actual value of the land & structure, or if it really reflects the pain and agony required to build on it. You might have serious issues with the foundations, infringement on other lots, zoning, archeology/history (human remains?) or the local building process.

Can you find out more about that address by researching local media? It wouldn't necessarily be on the Internet (you hope) but rather local newspapers, TV stations, and magazines.

Have you ever had a house built before, let alone built one? Not me, but everyone I know who's gone through the experience (even if it was a good one) has said "Never again"...
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Old 09-18-2011, 09:34 AM   #6
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Have you ever had a house built before, let alone built one? Not me, but everyone I know who's gone through the experience (even if it was a good one) has said "Never again"...
Not me. We had a blast designing and building (with a builder) our home. I definitely intend to do it again someday, although on a much smaller scale. I have things I want in a house, and I doubt I'd ever be able to find one that has it already. Now renovating an existing house while you're living there? That's a trip through the 3rd level of hell. Never again.
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Old 09-18-2011, 05:56 PM   #7
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+1 to all of the above.

I'd check on the zoning in the surrounding blocks, too, and maybe look at recent minutes from the town/city's board meeting to see if any recent neighborhood matters have come up there. Maybe also talk to an insurance agent to see what the rates would be for the property?

Were you always planning to build a house? Is the lot cheaper than comparable lots (if so, I'd wonder why)?

(Personally, I'd wait til I was ready to actually move and then see what is available including existing homes--building a house could cost a lot more than expected and budgeted for, and it would be awful to not be able to afford RE!)
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Old 09-18-2011, 09:58 PM   #8
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Besides checking on the details of the lot, I'd check on the neighbors. Is the next door neighbor insane or a hoarder with a few hundred cats inside? An easy excuse to knock on their door is to ask about the old house, why it was torn down, or who owned it, etc. Also ask them what they think of the neighborhood and other people there. Granted you only get a few minutes of face time, but it is an opportunity to meet the people you will have to tolerate later.
If I take up my hobby of breeding Persian cats again after I retire, they will more likely be complaining about me on that score.

Knock on their doors?! I can only imagine my sentiments if a total stranger knocked on my door asking a bunch of nosy questions about a neighboring property! I don't think they'd get much useful information out of me. Isn't there any other way to find this stuff out?
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Old 09-18-2011, 10:03 PM   #9
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I would ask if there is a home owners association or any covenients that would protect/restrict (depending on your point of view) how you can use the land. Also, the value of the surrounding homes to ensure you are not building the most expensive home in the neighborhood.
I looked on the assessor's website, and the houses on this street are mostly smallish (under 1200 sq ft and many under 1000) and oldish (mostly 1930's and older). As currently planned, my house will be smaller than the nearby houses. It might be the most expensive house on the block, but only if you count the PV array I want to put on the roof.

I will add HOA to the checklist. How do I find out about restrictive covenants? Would they be on the deed, or included in the original plat? I can probably find those at the County offices, and they may even be available online. Or would a title search reveal them?
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Old 09-18-2011, 11:21 PM   #10
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(snip)Why was the place torn down? Decrepitude is one issue. Mold or fire or earthquake might be workable. Violent crime or exploding meth lab would be quite another.
I dont know why it was torn down. Meth lab also occurred to me. Somewhere online I saw a listing of known meth labs by county or something along those lines, maybe I can find it again. I suppose the police department would know too.

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I wonder if the price reflects the actual value of the land & structure, or if it really reflects the pain and agony required to build on it. You might have serious issues with the foundations, infringement on other lots, zoning, archeology/history (human remains?) or the local building process.
I think probably a combination of both. The asking price is under half the "land value" in the Assessor's data. Checking the foundations for re-usability is already on the list, and an unsatisfactory answer to that question would be a deal-breaker, as would over-restrictive zoning. I suppose there could be archaeological sites anywhere, but given the age of the neighborhood, wouldn't they have been found already during the original development?

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Can you find out more about that address by researching local media? It wouldn't necessarily be on the Internet (you hope) but rather local newspapers, TV stations, and magazines.
Possibly. The local newspaper has a website with online search but you have to be a subscriber to read the articles. A quick search has turned up a few useful leads to look up at the library, which fortunately subscribes to the paper in question.
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Have you ever had a house built before, let alone built one? Not me, but everyone I know who's gone through the experience (even if it was a good one) has said "Never again"...
No, I've never built a house. It's a "bucket list" item, and I only plan to do it once anyway.
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Old 09-18-2011, 11:39 PM   #11
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Most of the services can all be seen on Google street & aerial view...also Bing birds-eye view. You should be able to see manhole covers for sewer (sanitary and storm), see water valves on the properties, see pedestals or poles showing you CableTV, Phone & power. See gas meters on sides of houses. Can pick up on all kinds of other info..like large dog houses, how well properties are maintained, etc.

You'd be able to take a virtual tour of the area also and see some things you may not realize are there...like right of ways, rail tracks, various industrial complexes, etc.

Zillow.com will also provide a lot of info...like what all the adjacent properties sold for and when...a walking/driving score (ie, how far to stores, schools, hospitals, etc). You can even get info on area pedophiles.

I also have looked at some areas and after a few hours of research, I know the area very well, but have yet to even visit.
I just checked Zillow and got zero results. They don't even show the property I'm looking at as being for sale. Unfortunately google does not have Street View in that area yet, only the aerial photo.
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Old 09-19-2011, 12:01 AM   #12
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Hi,

I too am trying to purchase our final working/ initial retirement home... though our requirements seem to be different. Quiet street, nice neighborhood, Walkability to at least coffee shop and ice cream shop (grandkids) is pretty high on my list - groceries/produce and restaurants would be a plus; proximity to medical services may be common requirements. I think I prefer a not fantastic school district, even though this is probably a plus for capital appreciation, I don't think I want to pay the premium now.

I definitely don't want to build, but want to pick up a bit of a bargain from a motivated seller. Our other requirements probably don't apply to you: room for an RV, proximity to airport (for kid visits), proximity to jobs (capital appreciation), possible room for temporary multi-family living, proximity to j*b for final work years.

If I was intending to build I would check with the city building department (more restrictive than the planning dept which covers zoning) if there were any covenants and understand any restrictions - usually they are careful about limiting the size, but you may come up against a minimum size restriction. One would expect normal setback restrictions, but there may also be prohibitions on the use of certain materials or if the block is an unusual shape requirements that may restrict the layout of your house.

You may want to chat to city about likely costs: obvious permit costs, but also things like making you do a survey. The survey requirement cost us $2000+ when we did an addition and hurt because it provided no value to us... we weren't close to crossing setbacks.

Removing an existing foundation may represent an additional cost (rather than a saving) as it may not meet updated city requirements or you may not wish to have the same shape, or the same placement of e.g. plumbing.

Under half the assessed land value seems like a great deal... I think any meth lab issues should come up in the environmental/hazards report.

Good luck.
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Old 09-19-2011, 12:20 AM   #13
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Knock on their doors?! I can only imagine my sentiments if a total stranger knocked on my door asking a bunch of nosy questions about a neighboring property! I don't think they'd get much useful information out of me. Isn't there any other way to find this stuff out?
You'd be surprised, and many of the neighbors actually might be happy to chat with you if you'd buy the place and make it nice again.

You really need to connect with a local expert who knows the history of the place. There's a reason that nobody local has snapped up that project, and I bet it's a nasty one.

As for "finding all the archeological sites"... Hawaii is finding them all the time, frequently when a lot is demolished and they start excavating for the foundation footings.
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Old 09-19-2011, 10:40 PM   #14
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You'd be surprised, and many of the neighbors actually might be happy to chat with you if you'd buy the place and make it nice again.

You really need to connect with a local expert who knows the history of the place. There's a reason that nobody local has snapped up that project, and I bet it's a nasty one.

As for "finding all the archeological sites"... Hawaii is finding them all the time, frequently when a lot is demolished and they start excavating for the foundation footings.
I poked around online a little more and found a legal notice on this property. It's a foreclosure. The notice was published in February and the assessor's website lists the most recent change of ownership as last month, which I assume was when the foreclosure became final. The notice was sent to the former owner at half a dozen different addresses—I suspect she may have owned a number of houses and rented them out and this one was suffering from "deferred maintenance", as they call it. But I will investigate further. As T-Al can tell us from his experience with the house next door, tenants sometimes get up to all sorts of shenanigans.

As for being snapped up, I think this is a relatively new listing. I didn't find it when I looked last month. And maybe nobody is snapping up anything out there. I think real estate is pretty depressed. City-data shows fewer than 49 home sales in the zip code during Q2 11. And as I was looking for the legal notices, I saw the announcement that the tax foreclosure list was out, and the paper that publishes it says the list this year amounts to "455 column-inches...the largest in memory". I need to see if any of the newsstands around here carry the Vidette. The library used to, but they don't any more.
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Old 09-20-2011, 07:04 AM   #15
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..........Checking the foundations for re-usability is already on the list, and an unsatisfactory answer to that question would be a deal-breaker, ..........
I'd be uncomfortable reusing an old 1930's foundation. Back then, building codes and construction techniques were not all that stringent or uniform. It also locks in your building orientation and overall size.
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Old 09-20-2011, 07:23 AM   #16
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Level of crime in that area, property value trends (up and coming or the slow decline).


I suppose I would state... safe area with a good socioeconomic atmosphere today and with low risk of decline and preferably stable and improving.

Obviously, adequate infrastructure and institutions near by would be important.

A home is a long-term purchase that is very important to the family (or person)... I would be inclined to take little risk... especially as one ages and becomes more vulnerable.


+1 on the torn down house. Crack house would be a no go. But even the slow long-term deterioration might be a bad sign. Look at the demographics of the neighborhood (trend over time if you can get the data).

I think Trulia provides some demographic information that might be helpful.

Take a look at the general area using Google street view! What does it look like?

What are the conditions of the school system? Average Income, etc. Ultimately, the relative cost of the house tells quite a bit. If all of the houses around it are low relative to other areas in the same city.... there is a reason for it!

IMO - Make a big check list and be conservative on the decision! I would ask myself: Why take a risk with my property and personal safety? Or maybe... how much of a risk would I be willing to take to save some money?

Obviously, one is limited by what they can afford. But I would not be penny wise and price foolish on that type of purchase. IOW - if it cost me an extra $50k or $100k to be in a decent location (i.e., preferable and desired)... it is money well spent!

If prices in the city are too expense to get into a desired city location... one can consider the suburbs.
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Old 09-20-2011, 07:47 AM   #17
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Knock on their doors?! I can only imagine my sentiments if a total stranger knocked on my door asking a bunch of nosy questions about a neighboring property! I don't think they'd get much useful information out of me. Isn't there any other way to find this stuff out?
Funny you should ask, since I did this before I placed a bid on our last home, close to 20 years ago.

It was a property being sold for an elderly widow that was going into a home. We had been in the house a few times, but I wanted to get some more info on it.

Just on a chance, I saw the mailman delivering to the neighborhood one morning (delivery was to each home). I introduced myself as a prospective buyer and asked if he could share any info that he knew. As it was, he told me most of the "life story" of the owner (originally built by she, and her deceased DH) along with the current status (being sold by her DS, a lawyer, who did not reside in the local area).

It's interesting how much info you can get from a mailman who had been delivering mail over a 20+ year period...
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Old 09-20-2011, 09:59 AM   #18
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Level of crime in that area, property value trends (up and coming or the slow decline).
I will check crime stats for the neighborhood. As far as property value is concerned, I don't know if there's anywhere in this whole state that property values are going up. I know (from appraisals and sale last summer of an identical unit) that my house has lost nearly 40% of its value since 2006. If property values are rising anywhere, it probably ain't Aberdeen.

Quote:
I suppose I would state... safe area with a good socioeconomic atmosphere today and with low risk of decline and preferably stable and improving.

Obviously, adequate infrastructure and institutions near by would be important.
What sorts of infrastructure besides those already mentioned?

Quote:
A home is a long-term purchase that is very important to the family (or person)... I would be inclined to take little risk... especially as one ages and becomes more vulnerable.


+1 on the torn down house. Crack house would be a no go. But even the slow long-term deterioration might be a bad sign. Look at the demographics of the neighborhood (trend over time if you can get the data).

I think Trulia provides some demographic information that might be helpful.

Take a look at the general area using Google street view! What does it look like?

What are the conditions of the school system? Average Income, etc. Ultimately, the relative cost of the house tells quite a bit. If all of the houses around it are low relative to other areas in the same city.... there is a reason for it!
I'll check out trulia. This county is an economically depressed area. I don't know if the downturn has been worse there than here in Seattle. The houses in this neighborhood cost less than in some other parts of town because they are smaller and older. If that's the only reason they're less expensive, it's fine with me. I have heard you don't want to be either the most expensive or the least expensive house on the block, and given the tiny size I'm planning on, I probably would be the least expensive in a more "upscale" neighborhood.
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IMO - Make a big check list...
I thought that's what I was doing on this thread
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... and be conservative on the decision! I would ask myself: Why take a risk with my property and personal safety? Or maybe... how much of a risk would I be willing to take to save some money?

Obviously, one is limited by what they can afford. But I would not be penny wise and price foolish on that type of purchase. IOW - if it cost me an extra $50k or $100k to be in a decent location (i.e., preferable and desired)... it is money well spent!

If prices in the city are too expense to get into a desired city location... one can consider the suburbs.
If it's a crime-ridden neighborhood I won't buy the property, but if you think in terms of spending an extra $100K for a better location, then you and I are not playing in the same league. After I've sold this house and paid off the remaining loan, I don't expect to have much more than $100K cash total to spend on my retirement residence. One big reason I'm moving to Aberdeen is that that's enough money to buy a house free and clear there. It's not a suburb, it's a small town in a rural county with a population of under 100,000 people.
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Old 09-29-2011, 01:02 AM   #19
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Why was the place torn down? Decrepitude is one issue. Mold or fire or earthquake might be workable. Violent crime or exploding meth lab would be quite another.

If you buy the place then you have to carry it. This would include keeping the lot clean & mowed, paying property taxes, and having liability insurance for owning an attractive nuisance. You might even have garage-squatter problems. (snip)
I went down to look at the property last weekend. Here are a few photos. One of the neighbors said an elderly couple used to live there. The wife died and the husband went into assisted living. Then the house sat empty and eventually got really rundown. That's why it was torn down. I checked the crime stats. Aberdeen has roughly the same level of property crime as Seattle but less than half as much violent crime. I couldn't find any broken down into smaller areas than an entire city, so it's still possible that part of Aberdeen has higher crime than where I live now, but I don't think so. I talked to a neighbor, who said it was a good part of town. Also there was a sheriff's car parked at the house across the street from the property.

Is it an umbrella liability policy I need? I take it you mean a policy that would pay a claim if there is damage to another property resulting from e.g. the garage catching fire or one of the big trees on the property blowing down in a windstorm. I called my homeowners' insurance today and when I described it, they said the only way they would cover the property is if the old garage was torn down. The exact words were they wouldn't cover the property unless there was "nothing on it, not even a pipe". If I do buy it, I won't have any additional money right away to pay for demolition of the garage and clearing away the other remnants like the old front steps and so on, so I guess I will have to use some other kind of insurance.
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Old 09-29-2011, 05:08 AM   #20
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... it's a small town in a rural county with a population of under 100,000 people.
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It's a large city lot that used to have a house on it.
Small town can make a difference.

Sometimes I just scan posts quickly and get the wrong idea... I was imagining a larger city.

What you described.... the area it brought to mind... where I live... You would probably be feeling like you might need a gun for protection.
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