Understanding the Real Estate Process from A – Z – A Buyer’s Guide to Real Estate – Part 6
This is the sixth post of a series in an FAQ format that I hope will help would be buyers better understand the real estate process that they are about to go through. There is a follow-on series to the posts for real estate sellers.
FAQ – Aside from the house itself, what other things should I being considering while I look for a new home?
There are already many factors that you are probably thinking about as you visit each home. Where is it, is the most obvious? How far away is it from where you work and what kind of daily commute will you have? Some locations aren’t that far distance-wise, but they can be a bear to drive each day. If you have the time, I often recommend getting up early one morning and going to the location of a house that you are really considering buying and then go to work from there, to see what you hit and how long it takes. Also consider where the closest stores for things like food or drugs or even gas are in relationship to the house. Some people like being out in the middle of nowhere, but it can drive others crazy.
If you like to walk, consider the “walkability” of the location. What can you get to by walking? Are there sidewalks or would you have to walk in the road? Is the road paved or would you be walking in mud or dust parts of the year? There is a web site www.walkscore.com that explains the concept of a walkable neighborhood and gives you a way to rate the location that you are considering.
What kind of neighborhood is the house in? You can tell a lot about the neighborhood and the neighbors that you might have by just driving or walking around in the area. Are the homes and yards well kept? Are there cars (or other things) parked all over the streets and drives? Are there children out playing? Do the people you encounter wave and say high or just look at you like you are an intruder? The things that you observe aren’t likely to change just because you move in, so make sure that you are happy living with and next to what you see. The toughest thing to evaluate in the time that you have available are your immediate neighbors. If you happen to get lucky on one of your visits to see a next door neighbor out, make an effort to introduce
How is the noise and light pollution at night? This is tough to gauge without going back to the location at night and just sitting there and observing how it looks and sounds at night. Most visits are done during the daylight hours, so you might not be able to tell that the parking lot lights in the industrial park or shopping mall next to the sub really light up everything at night or that the cars and trucks coming and going all night long in that same park or mall may make sitting out on your deck at night less than pleasurable.
What about the schools in the area? We already talked about using some of the available school district rating web sites. If you have children of school age this is a biggie and not one to be rushed. You may want to0 visit the schools that your children will end up attending to see things like class size, curriculum and what extracurricular activities are offered. If you plan to put your children in private schools or a schools of choice school that is not where they would normally go, then you’ll need to evaluate the cost involved (if any) and how the children would get to and from school each day. If the children are of pre-school age, you may need to locate the closest pre-school or childcare facilities. In addition to schools, what about the churches in the area? Is there a church of your denomination available? Maybe a Sunday visit to check it out is in order.
How are the roads to and from the homes location? If you get out in the country in Michigan, you’ll probably be on gravel (dirt) roads. In the warmer months the County will maintain the roads by grading them and probably will also spray them with calcium chloride to control the dust; however, they will still get rough (especially so in the winter months when grading is not possible) and there will still be dust. It’s a price that people pay to live out in the country in Michigan. Even if you are in the suburbs, it is possible that your neighborhood could have really bad roads. That happens in site condo complexes when the HOA doesn’t collect enough money to maintain the roads that it owns. It can happen even in platted subs or on the streets of Villages and cities, if they don’t have the means to maintain the streets. Don’t expect that street that is rough as a cob to get any better just because you moved in.
What is the heating fuel used in the area? You’ll notice as you visit and drive around the neighborhood whether there are “pigs” in the yards. No, not real oinkers, but the large metal tanks that hold propane, which are called pigs in real estate parlance. That is a sign that there is no natural gas pipeline in the area and that your choices for heating are propane, heating oil or electric, all of which are more expensive than natural gas. You could get lucky and find a geo-thermal house, which is a cheaper way of heating, but that is rare. This is again a trade-off for houses that are way out in the country, where the gas lines haven’t been run. Make sure that you get a handle on the winter heating costs for those homes. Ask the current owners for a recap of monthly costs from the last heating season.
If you have pets, especially dogs, think about accommodating them. Does the neighborhood or HOA allow fences or even electronic fences? Some Condo Associations or HOAs are very restrictive about fences (most don’t allow any fences) and almost all have rules about dogs, such as the size of dogs that are allowed and the rules for controlling the dogs when they are outside. If you are thinking of moving to the country with your little dogs, think about the problems caused by coyotes and foxes in this area. You can’t just let them run free in your big country yard when the local animals see them as a tasty snack. The same applies to cats.
It is fairly easy to find Internet site with statistics about the crime rates in any area, so check that out. There are also a number of sites that have demographic information about the area. In southeast Michigan the SEMCOG site is a good starting point for community profiles. There are other sites that will allow you to check out the presence of sex offenders in the area or to search for other things that might be of concern to you.
Unless you wish to live like a hermit, consider the cultural and social amenities/activities in the area. In addition to the schools and churches, are there places like libraries and museums and theaters within reasonable distance? Are there things going on in the community that support the arts? Are groups like the local Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club, the Optimists’ Club and other social groups active in the community? What opportunities exist for you to get involved in things or to volunteer to serve? Getting involved in local community groups is the best way to get to know your neighbors and to become part of the fabric of your new community.
If all of this sounds like a lot of extra work, remember that buying a house is not like buying a pair of