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What are the Not-so-Obvious Things to Research Before Buying a Home?
Old 02-27-2021, 06:54 PM   #1
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What are the Not-so-Obvious Things to Research Before Buying a Home?

DW and I are looking to buy a new home in a new geographic area and I would like to know what are some of the not-so-apparent items that should be researched and/or looked into prior to purchase. I want to develop a checklist I can use to lessen the likelihood of purchasing a home that has issues, and/or selecting a location that is problematic.

I approach our house hunt with some apprehension because a year after I ER'ed, DW and I bought our current home (in a new geographic location) and have lived in it a little over 2 years. Now we have to move because of a completely unanticipated situation that makes it impossible for us to remain in our home; and I thought I did diligent research prior to purchase. If you are curious as to what the issue is, I posted about it here: https://www.early-retirement.org/for...do-106989.html. I don't even think renting in the area for a year would have helped in our situation because the problem is confined to specific location within a specific neighborhood. We can't afford to make a similar mistake again.

Please reply with, once you have identified a potential new home, what you would research and look into prior to hiring a home inspector and making an offer. Thanks.

P.S., one I important item I came up with following the experience with my current home is this: Look at the sales history of the properties nearest to the one being considered (access this information via the County/City online property records). View at least 15 property records. Something is amiss if the majority of them have recent sales. (If I had done this before our current home purchase it would have prevented the problem requiring us to move, because we would not have purchased our home. 9 houses in a row, ours being in the middle, changed ownership within the previous 2 years. Many of the other 100 houses on our street were still owned by their original owners and just a very few homes had recent sales. A cluster of recent sales won't reveal the specific serious problem, but it will tell you there probably is one!

I have also discovered Google Maps Satellite and Street Views are your friend. These views can reveal all kinds of undesirable things in the neighborhood and around a potential home. Online pilots' maps are another good resource I have discovered (I never knew so many local airports exist; they seem to be located every 15 to 25 miles in the suburbs.)
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Old 02-27-2021, 07:21 PM   #2
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I talked to the neighbors who were living in nearby homes when we bought our home 20 years ago. They were pretty honest in giving me the highs and lows of the neighborhood and they were pretty accurate with everything. But no matter how much due diligence you do, you can always end up with a bad neighbor that annoys you. Our next door neighbors when we moved in were a retired couple with no kids. They sold a few years later and the family that bought the place had five young boys. Our homes are only six feet apart so there was no escaping the fact that things were going to change.

You could also try creating an account on Nextdoor.com and see what the neighbors are chatting about. You would have to give a fake address to do so but since you would only be using the account to view comments and not contribute anything I don’t see any harm in doing so.
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Old 02-27-2021, 08:50 PM   #3
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Thank you Ready; I'll add talking to the potential neighbors to my list and look I to setting up a Next Door login for properties we are really interested in.
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Old 02-27-2021, 09:12 PM   #4
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We are looking for homes in our area. Weíre considering new construction so part of our research process is researching the potential builders. One floor plan really stood out to us until we looked up the builder and found several negative reviews.

We will walk around potential neighborhoods to get a feel for what they are like as far as noise levels and traffic. We also asked for a copy of HOA covenants for the neighborhoods weíre seriously considering. I donít want any surprises there.

You can get an inspection on an existing home. Also look up the tax rate and assessment value for tax purposes so youíll know how much youíll pay in property taxes.

We donít have kids but we also research the area schools. Better schools impact resale values.

We also ask about adding a fence if there isnít one already. We have dogs so that is a feature we look for in a potential home purchase.

If you are moving to an unfamiliar area there are lots of resources online to look up crime statistics etc. There are also real estate agents that can provide detailed market information for the local markets you are considering.

I understand the importance of getting this kind of big purchase decision right based on your individual needs. We are finding that our local housing market is extremely hot right now. Everything is being bought up at quite high premiums.

Good luck to you. Iíll be following this thread to see if others have good tips.
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Old 02-27-2021, 09:19 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by NateW View Post
9 houses in a row, ours being in the middle, changed ownership within the previous 2 years. Many of the other 100 houses on our street were still owned by their original owners and just a very few homes had recent sales. A cluster of recent sales won't reveal the specific serious problem, but it will tell you there probably is one!
Whats the problem?
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Old 02-27-2021, 09:25 PM   #6
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So sorry about that wood smoke problem. I read through your other thread. I had a similar problem 10+ years ago and ended up selling. I had a brand-new home with excellent windows and seals, yet the smoke still seeped in. This was in a very rural area, and in my experience such places seem to draw people who want to live their own way regardless of neighbors.

In my case, the stove smoke was not the only factor. Another neighbor built a motorcycle racing track on his private acreage across the road. I'm pretty sure I will never live in the county again.

Wherever you are shopping, no amount of sleuthing and research will eliminate the risk of buying. As Ready notes above, neighbors and other factors can shift on a dime after you've moved in. My smoke problem cropped up about five or six years after I moved in. The racing track a little before then. Homeownership is speculation on many levels, and if you're not up for the gamble, you might consider leaving the casino, at least for a while.

Do you have to buy at all? Could you rent for a while even if in your current situation it would not have helped? I've been renting happily for a decade after many years of ownership. I thought it was going to be temporary while I acclimated to a new region, but it has stuck. Not saying I'll never buy again, but it would have to be a pretty special deal.

If you really cannot afford to make such a mistake again, you should rent for a while no matter where you end up.
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Old 02-27-2021, 09:25 PM   #7
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In a new geographic area I would also spend time researching any issues specific to that area. Eg radon, flooding, etc...

Every buy is a bit of a crapshoot with neighbors, but knocking on doors and chatting can unearth a lot of them. Also just sitting in your car and watching at various times of the day.
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Old 02-28-2021, 12:08 AM   #8
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I would second Ramen's suggestion of renting first. What's the rush to buy something when you are in a new geographic area? I would rent for 6-12 months first and get a feel of the area and make friends who can tell you about the neighborhood character, events, history, etc. Get on a neighborhood list serve if they have one. For Nextdoor you need a physical address and it's verified thru the postal service, so it's not easy to join without moving there or knowing someone, but maybe there's a neighborhood Facebook group. By the time you're ready to buy, you may even email the list serve to see if you can get leads before houses come on the market to beat the rush. I see my neighbors do this. Good luck!
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Old 02-28-2021, 01:04 AM   #9
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A couple of things to add. These aren't exhaustive but are things that I don't always see mentioned.

1. If your house has an HOA read the restrictions. Read all your deed restrictions. We used to have dogs that needed a 6' fence. Come to find out that not all subdivisions allow 6' fences. There are a lot of things that restrictions may require or forbid and you don't know it if you don't read them. I actually often read these before even deciding if I will go and look at the house. Often my agent can get them from the other agent or they are available online. At least around here, you get them after you under contract and they are in the title report but I tree to get them early if I can.

2. Read the ordinances on any issues that you care about. Ordinances can change but you can sometimes get an idea from them of what things the City things are important and you can get an idea of what the rules are now.

3. I always look to see when the house sold before and if there are pictures online of the house from the prior sale. When we bought our current house I found at, I think, realtor.com the pictures from when the owners bought the house and some earlier pics they did with a prior agent. These were all interesting to look at to see what had been updated on the house and how it looked before updating.

4. I look up the tax history of the house and see how taxes have changed and if there is anything that indicates the house has been remodeled. That isn't a bad thing just curious to see changes over time.

Renting in a new area is a good idea. We sold our house in another city and did a short term apartment rental in the new location while we were looking for a house. Even though I had grown up in the same county things had changed a lot and doing this was helpful.
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Old 02-28-2021, 07:46 AM   #10
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All of the above are good suggestions. I especially understand about dogs and fencing. Realtors have often been surprised when I ask about HOAs and fences but also # of dogs.

The wrong answer will be the dealbreaker for us.

Also, when we were looking to move into a new neighborhood, I went into the Costco, the mall(s), and the nearby grocery stores to see whether I’d want to shop there. If I didn’t like the local stores I’d be using, that had a bearing on whether I’d want to buy in that neighborhood.
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Old 02-28-2021, 08:10 AM   #11
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While looking at maps for airports - also consider active railroads.

More preferences than potential problems:

Consider what direction you want the house to face. We've come to prefer west-facing. You get the sun in the morning in the back (kitchen/family room in most houses) and the patio/deck is shaded by the house in the afternoon.

Consider the length of the driveway for parking. In our subdivision, most drives are maybe 1.5 car lengths deep. Ours is 2 cars deep due do lot shape, placement of the house, and street geometry.
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Old 02-28-2021, 09:20 AM   #12
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Some of ours are:
Don't live downhill from a non-guttered home (lots of water in the crawl space even if you have a French drain.)
Check out the noise map
Check crime map
Sex offender map
Knowing how many rentals are in the area
Maybe walking the neighborhood in the evenings?
Asking people who you see on the walk?
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Old 02-28-2021, 09:21 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by RxMan View Post
We are looking for homes in our area. Weíre considering new construction so part of our research process is researching the potential builders. One floor plan really stood out to us until we looked up the builder and found several negative reviews.

We will walk around potential neighborhoods to get a feel for what they are like as far as noise levels and traffic. We also asked for a copy of HOA covenants for the neighborhoods weíre seriously considering. I donít want any surprises there.

You can get an inspection on an existing home. Also look up the tax rate and assessment value for tax purposes so youíll know how much youíll pay in property taxes.

We donít have kids but we also research the area schools. Better schools impact resale values.

We also ask about adding a fence if there isnít one already. We have dogs so that is a feature we look for in a potential home purchase.

If you are moving to an unfamiliar area there are lots of resources online to look up crime statistics etc. There are also real estate agents that can provide detailed market information for the local markets you are considering.

I understand the importance of getting this kind of big purchase decision right based on your individual needs. We are finding that our local housing market is extremely hot right now. Everything is being bought up at quite high premiums.

Good luck to you. Iíll be following this thread to see if others have good tips.
Thank you RxMan. I'll add your several good suggestions to my list.

One thing DW and I discussed is finding an area in NC (we live in the north part of Virginia) and moving there, renting for a year and if we like it, have a new home built. Lake Norman area is one we are considering, or near Asheville. As for Asheville, looking around in Google Satellite View clued me in on this massive papermill due west several miles (in Canton NC), which led to this street view I posted. Further research reveals many environmental issues with this papermill and the sulfur smell does affect the Asheville area.
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Old 02-28-2021, 10:32 AM   #14
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Whats the problem?
It's explained here:
https://www.early-retirement.org/for...do-106989.html
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Old 02-28-2021, 10:40 AM   #15
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Good Luck. We've got a neighbor that burns wet wood, not yet annoying enough to make us move though. If we ever do move it will be either to a place in the country where we can't see or smell our neighbors, or maybe a retirement community.
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Old 02-28-2021, 10:47 AM   #16
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So sorry about that wood smoke problem. I read through your other thread. I had a similar problem 10+ years ago and ended up selling. I had a brand-new home with excellent windows and seals, yet the smoke still seeped in. This was in a very rural area, and in my experience such places seem to draw people who want to live their own way regardless of neighbors.

In my case, the stove smoke was not the only factor. Another neighbor built a motorcycle racing track on his private acreage across the road. I'm pretty sure I will never live in the county again.

Wherever you are shopping, no amount of sleuthing and research will eliminate the risk of buying. As Ready notes above, neighbors and other factors can shift on a dime after you've moved in. My smoke problem cropped up about five or six years after I moved in. The racing track a little before then. Homeownership is speculation on many levels, and if you're not up for the gamble, you might consider leaving the casino, at least for a while.

Do you have to buy at all? Could you rent for a while even if in your current situation it would not have helped? I've been renting happily for a decade after many years of ownership. I thought it was going to be temporary while I acclimated to a new region, but it has stuck. Not saying I'll never buy again, but it would have to be a pretty special deal.

If you really cannot afford to make such a mistake again, you should rent for a while no matter where you end up.
Thank you Ramen. You raise some good points I have not considered. This makes me feel better knowing now it's a gamble no matter what I do (I am beginning to think I've been attempting to eliminate all risk. You are right, I can't.) Renting would the pressure off finding the perfect house in the perfect location.

P.s. I have since discovered the smoking house 400 feet away has a neighbor across the street who heats solely with wood too, doubling our misery.
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Old 02-28-2021, 10:50 AM   #17
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In a new geographic area I would also spend time researching any issues specific to that area. Eg radon, flooding, etc...

Every buy is a bit of a crapshoot with neighbors, but knocking on doors and chatting can unearth a lot of them. Also just sitting in your car and watching at various times of the day.
Thanks tb001. I'm adding "Spend time sitting in car in neighborhood and observing".
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Old 02-28-2021, 10:59 AM   #18
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Lots of good stuff here. A couple of ours, I did not see mentioned. We once has a cookie cutter house built in a new subdivision and missed the electric lines in the backyard. They can get loud and we were concerned if there was a health issue.

The other is the ability to walk and bike vs using our car all the time. Not having sidewalks is a deal breaker. We like the concept of the 15 minute city. Can you get to the things you need most within 15 minutes. We measure this by biking and walking.
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Old 02-28-2021, 11:21 AM   #19
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I would second Ramen's suggestion of renting first. What's the rush to buy something when you are in a new geographic area? I would rent for 6-12 months first and get a feel of the area and make friends who can tell you about the neighborhood character, events, history, etc. ...
Thanks Free2030; that sounds like a good plan.
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Old 02-28-2021, 11:46 AM   #20
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Originally Posted by Katsmeow View Post
A couple of things to add. These aren't exhaustive but are things that I don't always see mentioned.

1. If your house has an HOA read the restrictions. Read all your deed restrictions. We used to have dogs that needed a 6' fence. Come to find out that not all subdivisions allow 6' fences. There are a lot of things that restrictions may require or forbid and you don't know it if you don't read them. I actually often read these before even deciding if I will go and look at the house. Often my agent can get them from the other agent or they are available online. At least around here, you get them after you under contract and they are in the title report but I tree to get them early if I can.

2. Read the ordinances on any issues that you care about. Ordinances can change but you can sometimes get an idea from them of what things the City things are important and you can get an idea of what the rules are now.

3. I always look to see when the house sold before and if there are pictures online of the house from the prior sale. When we bought our current house I found at, I think, realtor.com the pictures from when the owners bought the house and some earlier pics they did with a prior agent. These were all interesting to look at to see what had been updated on the house and how it looked before updating.

4. I look up the tax history of the house and see how taxes have changed and if there is anything that indicates the house has been remodeled. That isn't a bad thing just curious to see changes over time.

Renting in a new area is a good idea. We sold our house in another city and did a short term apartment rental in the new location while we were looking for a house. Even though I had grown up in the same county things had changed a lot and doing this was helpful.
Thank you Katsmeow; very helpful. I'm adding "Look for previous sales listings and pictures of house being considered."

In Virginia if buying in an HOA neighborhood, the buyer must sign an acknowledgement that they have received and read the HOA Rules & Covenants.

My neighbor told me he wished he had studied the plat of his property (this and the plat of the neighborhood is something I now always try to review before even seeing a local property) before buying. If he did, he would not have bought his house because of a berm along the back fence and a "do not build line" 20 feet back from the berm and noted on the plat, preventing him from installing an in-ground pool.

Yes, I now know to read the local ordinances. Oddly, our County nusiance ordinance should protect me from the current situation requiring us to move (it's enforceable through the health dept.), but the County Health Department, Environmental Affairs Div. is completely ignoring my complaint, filed with professional grade air quality sensor data showing the gravity of the situation. Their supervisor lives one street over from me in my neighborhood and has admitted to me on the phone he is aware of the issue, but yet I get no other response. So I have learned ordinances have to be taken with a grain of salt, so to say.
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