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What to Know Before Buying a House - Ask the Neighbors

What you'll learn: Things You Should Consider Doing Before Buying a House

EXPECTED READ TIME: 6 MINUTES

Picture this, you’ve been searching for months for a home to buy but haven’t found the right fit. Finally, a house falls out of escrow and is back on the market. You’re elated, take a tour, and put in an offer. Once you move in, you discover several major things you wished you would have known about the home and neighborhood before taking the plunge. That’s why it’s smart to have a conversation with a neighbor or two before signing a sales contract.

Get to Know the Neighborhood

When you’re considering buying a home, realize you’re not just buying the house, you’re also buying the neighborhood, which includes your neighbors. Spend some extra time to get to know the community. Visit at all different times of the day and night, during the week and on the weekends. Notice how quiet or noisy it is and how many cars are parked on the street.

Look up the crime stats on crimemapping.com. You can also visit the local police or sheriff’s department and ask if they get calls very often from that neighborhood.

What to Research Before Buying a House

Besides scoping out the neighborhood, see what it’s like traveling to and from the area. Is it an easy drive, or do you have to cross busy streets? What about getting to the grocery store or the kids’ schools? It’s easy to fall in love with a home in a beautiful setting once you’re there. But what if you have to drive narrow winding roads or super busy streets to arrive?  Take that into account when making your decision.

If you have kids or are planning to, find out what school district the home is in. And, if you don’t know what the property taxes are, it’s easy to go on the local tax assessor’s website and find out.

How to Tell if a Neighborhood is Good

Besides checking out the crime map, visit the National Sex Offender Public Website NSOPW. Making sure your potential neighborhood is safe is especially important if you have kids.

Drive around and see how many other homes are for sale. If there are quite a few — find out why. Also, look for any homes that are rundown or empty. Too many could mean the neighborhood is on a downturn.

If you’re shopping in a gated community, see if you can visit the clubhouse for a bite to eat or play a game of golf. Stop by the homeowner’s association office and introduce yourself. Ask if they have any additional information about the development. Take note if the staff are friendly or not.

Tell Me About Your Neighborhood

After you’ve done your preliminary sleuthing, it’s time to have a conversation about the neighborhood with the neighbors. Don’t be shy. Most people are friendly and willing to talk. They may be more than helpful, and you’ll find out everything you need to know within the first ten minutes.

Introduce yourself and tell them you’re considering purchasing a neighboring home for sale. Ask them if they can tell you about the neighborhood.

Get to Know Your Neighbor Questions

As you approach your potential new neighbors, the safest, least personal question you can ask is, “How is the neighborhood?” The interesting thing is that if you’re a keen observer, you’ll be able to see how they would be as a neighbor. Are they open and friendly, or crabby and critical? Would they be someone you’d feel comfortable living around? If you have kids, bring them with you so you can see how they react to children. Are they open and engaged or withdrawn?

Often people volunteer so much information you don’t need to ask anything else. But here are a few more things you might want to know.

  • Is the neighborhood safe?
  • What's it like living here?
  • Have you heard of any issues with this home?
  • Are there very many dogs in the neighborhood?
  • Do many kids live in the neighborhood?
  • Are people friendly?
  • How long have you lived here?

And if the home is located in a gated community, make sure to ask about the homeowners association. Find out if they’re helpful or overbearing.

Once you’ve talked to a few people, you’ll get a good idea if this is where you want to live. And they may be able to tell you something about the home that you hadn’t been aware of. For example, if it floods every winter. It always pays to reach out and talk to people. And don’t be surprised if you make some new friends while you’re at it. Best of luck in your new home search and finding the perfect neighborhood.

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