Moving to a new home can be an exciting life event. Sometimes getting a fresh start is just what the family needs.
This excitement can quickly wane, though, if the new home is not checked out thoroughly beforehand. There are steps that can be taken and research that can be performed early on to make sure that the excitement of the new home lasts as long a possible.
Virtually everyone knows to check for the basics: Is it close to work/school? Is it in a good school district? Is it close to shopping and restaurants? Does it seem safe and nice? These are just the basics, though, and there are several other factors that most people do not consider before signing a new lease or mortgage for that new home.
Before even beginning the search, a checklist needs to be developed. In the checklist, include each and every detail that is desired, no matter how small or insignificant. This will help avoid remorse after moving in of thinking, “This is great, but I wish we had…” Use the checklist on each and every home viewed, even if only viewed from the outside. At the end of the search, this checklist will help with the comparison of homes so that the perfect one, or the closest to perfect, is chosen. Along with the desired amenities, the rest of the items in this list need to be included to provide a full picture of the compatibility of the property to the prospective homeowner or tenant’s needs and desires.
Are there open fields near the anticipated new home? If so, it may be a good idea to check with the local zoning department to check the zoning for those properties, as well as for any pending zoning change applications. Depending on the results, this may be an indication of upcoming construction projects that can cause turmoil in the neighborhood and even in the household.
Most cities have webpages that map out crimes and crime statistics for the neighborhoods. The statistics generally include incidents such as disturbances, vehicle accidents, as well as traditional crimes such as robbery, theft, assaults and shootings. As safety is subjective, by researching these statistics, the potential new homeowner or tenant can determine their own comfort level for the safety of the neighborhood.
Most homes are viewed during a weekday or at a time when neighbors are either away or on their best behavior. While it might seem inconvenient, checking out the neighborhood at “off” times will provide a way to determine the true peacefulness. Stopping by at night, particularly on Friday or Saturday Night, and traversing through the neighborhood will allow the prospect to determine if the neighborhood may have residents who like to party and may be disruptive. If this is found to be the case, the inconvenience of one or two nights may prevent years of misery trying to sleep with parties going on in the neighborhood.
Most people are excited about the prospect of getting into a new home and will be taken in by the new coat of paint and the cleanliness of the property. It is important to look beyond that, though, and take a close look at things about the property such as the eaves, the foundation, the exterior walls, the roof, the doors and windows. By looking closely, potential flaws that can cause issues later can be found if they exist. Looking at the eaves for sagging or splitting, as well as for gaps, may prevent possible pest entry. Making sure that the foundation is solidly in the ground can help identify or prevent a falling foundation. Exterior walls can give indications of future issues through missing or crumbling mortar in brickwork, cracked bricks, or siding that is pulling apart or otherwise damaged. The roof may have only one or two missing or broken shingles, but this can be an indication that others are loose and would allow for leaks. Doors and windows sagging or not opening/closing properly may be an indicator of foundation issues that can expand and cause further issues. Similarly, looking for even minute gaps in doors and windows can give an indication of draftiness and possible heating/cooling loss. Not mentioned yet is the yard. A close look at the yard will indicate how much work and expense will be needed to maintain it. A yard may look green and lush from a distance, even from just a few feet away, but may be riddled with “pretty” weeds that make it look that way. This will also help you identify the type of soil as that will be important in determining whether topsoil will be needed to provide the lush, beautiful lawn that everybody wants.
Generally, utilities are an afterthought. Some television providers, though, offer channels that others do not. These offerings can include specific programs or events that are exclusive, and making sure the programs or events desires are available can help avoid remorse. Similarly, internet providers vary in their offerings, and the prospect wants to make sure that the proper service for their needs is available.
With the different styles of doors and windows, it can sometimes be difficult to determine their energy efficiency. Even though gaps may not have been seen in the Property Condition inspection above, the lack of efficiency can cause higher utility bills than with other properties. By contacting the local utility providers, one is generally able to get a usage and cost history for a specific property. In “deregulated” areas, knowing the usage is more important than the previous residents’ costs. Deregulation allows the resident to choose their own provider, and pricing can vary widely from provider-to-provider; knowing the usage will allow the prospect to more-accurately predict their personal cost. Even though the rent or mortgage payment may be affordable, utility bills can take the home out of being reasonable and into the unaffordable range.
Particularly for properties near city limits, it is important to confirm the location of the property as compared to the city line. Most cities provide trash collection as part of the water bill, but most counties and some cities do not provide such service, leaving the homeowner or tenant to contract their own provider. It is important to know beforehand whether such collection is provided, what options are available if it is not, and what the pricing of the different options is.
In considering a neighborhood, knowing all of the HOA rules can affect the pocketbook, too. Many HOAs have at least one or two “quirky” rules that are easy to violate if not know. This can result in fines from the HOA that can, in extreme circumstances, be very costly. This will also provide an indication of whether the prospect would want to live under such rules.
Similar to television and internet service, it is vital that cellular service for the prospective new home is researched. The best way to test this is to make sure to take a look at the phone’s signal strength indicator while at the property. Continue checking the signal as a walk through the home is taken to make sure that there are no “dead” spots inside. If the signal is weak, then contact the cellular service provider to confirm if this is a temporary issue – the visit to the property may have been taken on a day when a tower was undergoing maintenance that had it “down” – or if there are solutions for resolving the signal strength for the long-haul. Internet speed also needs to be checked, again at various points within the home and on the property by using an app such as SpeedTest by Ookla. Too many new homeowners and tenants have arrived at their new home only to find out that they have actually moved outside of their carrier’s coverage area.
Knowing where the nearest fire station, police precinct and hospital are can come in handy if an emergency occurs. This will allow the prospect to determine approximately how long it should take for first responders to arrive, or to make a decision in an emergency whether it’s better to call an ambulance or drive to the Emergency Room. Additionally, knowing where fire hydrants are located within the neighborhood may help on insurance rates as some companies provide discounts for being within a certain distance from the nearest hydrant.
The number and location of electrical outlets is important, and often overlooked, too. As walking through a property, the prospect should envision their own setup and furniture layout to make sure that outlets line up with where they would be needed. Otherwise, the risk is run of setting up only to find that extension cords are needed, which can make the layout unsightly.
This is not a fully-inclusive list, and prospective homeowners and tenants should feel free to add their own items to it. Thinking “outside of the box” about items like these, though, will help make sure that the new home is everything desired, or at the very least as close as is available.
The author has moved multiple times, including from state-to-state, and has decided to share these tips in an effort to help others make the transition to a new home easier.
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