Buying a home in an unfamiliar area carries risks, and it can be scary. Real estate laws vary from state to state. Local custom can differ from one county to another. You don't want to make a home buying mistake or buy in the wrong neighborhood. So how can you protect yourself?
Begin a Search Online
Start an Internet search by entering keywords into Google such as the name of the city, coupled with information or housing. Here are a few places to look:
- Look at the tourism sites for the city.
- Check with the local Chamber of Commerce.
- Go to the Web site of the major city newspaper to follow metro news and housing classifieds.
- Look up the nearby university and college Web sites.
- Enter About.nameofyourcity.com to see if About.com maintains a cities and town site.
- If you've narrowed your choices to specific neighborhoods, search on "name of neighborhood" plus "neighborhood association."
- Go to the local police department's Web site to check crime stats.
Talk to Real Estate Agents
While the Federal Fair Housing Law may prevent real estate agents from giving you information about protected classes, which includes where churches are located, neighborhood school rankings, ethnic make-up of neighborhoods, among other factors, agents can be a wealth of information.
- First, find a real estate agent.
- Interview several real estate agents.
- Ask whom the agents represent and request a copy of a buyer's broker agreement before you are asked to sign such a document.
- Find out the agent protocol for working with local agents.
- Determine who pays the real estate agent. It could be you.
- Talk to a title officer at a local title company about title policies and how closings are handled.
Gather Data on Inspections and Disclosures
Because every state is different, find out how what types of disclosures you can expect to receive and which types of inspections are normally performed. Some states do not require that sellers disclose material facts to potential buyers. Here are questions to ask:
- Is it customary for buyers to receive reports on environmental hazards and, if so, who pays for them?
- Are pest inspections generally part of the purchase contract?
- Who pays for home inspections and what types of repairs do sellers cover?
- Do city laws govern transfer of ownership and inspections?
- Do buyers in certain neighborhoods ask for chimney, plumbing or sewer / septic inspections?
- Are surveys typically ordered?
- How are taxes assessed?
Whether you choose older or new homes, because agents tend to specialize in neighborhoods, hire an agent who works in the neighborhoods where you want to buy. A good agent can tell you the differences between homes as sometimes a home across the street from another can vary greatly in price.
Local specialists have intimate knowledge about their areas that you won't get anywhere else. Ask for details on:
- Recent comparable sales.
- Average per-square-foot cost. Break this down by price ranges and square-foot values because the larger the home, the lower the square-foot cost.
- Average list-to-sales-price ratios.
- Are you moving into a seller's, buyer's or neutral marketplace?
At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, DRE # 00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.