While buyers are often drawn to quartz countertops, hardwood floors or a nice backsplash, there are more serious factors consumers should consider before investing in a home, says Lynn Ikle, real estate agent at Redfin. in Howard County, Maryland.
“Maybe there’s a nice empty space next to it, but you need to know if it’s zoned for a Walmart,” Ikle says. “Or you like the yard but need a fence for your dog, but the owners association doesn’t allow it. … These are all things buyers should pay attention to before making an offer.
Before you buy, here’s how to educate yourself on everything from noise levels and environmental hazards to future neighborhood development plans:
Routes, railroad schedules and flight paths are mapped publicly and may be included in some property reports, says Todd Teta, director of products and technology for Attom data solutions, a real estate data analysis provider in Irvine, Calif. that provides free reports on the disclosure of information on individual properties.
You can also check community rules if you are concerned about noise from your neighbors, such as limits on how late parties can be organized, whether hard floors should be covered in a high-rise building, and whether contractors or landscapers must adhere to specific work schedules.
Mortgage lenders typically check FEMA maps to determine if flood insurance is required for a property, but you can read much more about the risks of natural disasters and climate change from several sites. For example, ClimateCheck provides ratings for counties, cities, neighborhoods and zip codes that show their risk of fire, heat, drought and storms now and in the future.
A Flood factor score estimates the likelihood of a flood, is available on Redfin lists and directly from the First Street Foundation, which produced the score. Consumers can check Free home risk for a risk assessment of natural and man-made properties or a free disclosure report to verify environmental issues such as past uses or exposure to pollution.
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“The purpose of these reports is to find out if you will have long-term maintenance issues, if the property is insurable, and if the value of the home will be affected by these issues before you make an offer,” says Teta.
The U.S. Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibits real estate agents from sharing information about crime and schools. In the past, this information was used to guide white shoppers from black neighborhoods and vice versa. Agents can direct buyers to information sources, such as school system websites or review sites such as GreatSchools.org.
Consumers can also buy a iHomeReport de Kukun, which costs $ 39.95 per report and has information including community safety information and maps with the nearest schools and their grades.
“We’re like CarFax for a Home in that we provide information on permits for past renovations so you can track contractors who have already worked on your home,” says Raf Howery, CEO and Founder of Kukun, “ but we also include everything about the community, including walking distance to a grocery store… and where the nearest hospital is.
Newly built communities usually have a map outlining plans for retail sites, schools, and amenities, but for an established community or regional perspective, buyers can request information from their real estate agents. Buyers can also check county websites for planning updates and to see who owns open land.
“You don’t want to buy a house because of the wooded view and find out two years later that the site is being converted into a shopping center,” she explains.
Some jurisdictions require sellers to provide buyers with information about their utility bills, Ikle explains. In other areas, buyers can call the utility company to ask for the 12-month average of electricity, water and gas bills.
“But you have to think about different levels of use,” says Ikle. “For example, if a house is heated with oil, you can ask how often the tank is filled and how much it costs. “
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If you’re buying a home with solar panels, ask vendors if the panels are rented or owned, Ikle says. You may be taking over a lease that will incur a monthly fee.
“You need to know the details of what is covered by the fee, like your water and sewer bill, community amenities, and maintenance of common areas,” says Ikle. “You need to know, for example, if snow removal refers only to the road or if it covers your driveway or patio. “
Buyers should examine association documents to see if a reserve fund has enough money to avoid special assessments, which could run into the hundreds or thousands of dollars if a major repair is required.
Buyers can request to see the reserve study from an HOA or a condominium association.
“The bottom line is that there is a high risk of a special valuation when the percentage of funding, reported in the recent study of reserves, is between 0 and 30%”, explains Robert Nordlund, CEO of Association Reserves, which provides studies of reserves for a various associations of owners. “There is a low risk of a special contribution when the funded percentage is greater than 70%. “
Rules of association are also important to look at for things like whether you can park an RV or boat on the property, run a home business, or change your paint color.
Check if there are any restrictions on renting your home for short periods or with an annual lease. Some buildings limit the percentage of units that can be rented at any time, and some prohibit offering Airbnb accommodation.
You can also check with local jurisdictions for their rules on leasing property. Some pitches prohibit short-term rentals entirely or only allow them if the owner is in residence.