If you've narrowed down your choice of a home to one, you may be eager to make an offer and get negotiations started. If you're buying in a tight market where sellers have the upper hand, you may even feel pressured to put in an offer the moment you see a house.
But, before you write that check for your earnest money deposit, you should take a little time to investigate the house and the neighborhood so you have a better idea of what you're buying.
Your realtor can be a valuable resource in gathering information for you and getting the answers to your questions from the seller's agent. In the meantime, you can be proactive and do some of your own research.
1. Search for neighborhood information online.
If you already live in the community, you may be able to skip this step, but it's always worthwhile to search local newspaper websites, local government sites, community sites and blogs to find out what's happening in terms of upcoming development or other issues.
2. Check the crime report.
Your local police station will have statistics on crime and you can also go to www.crimereports.com to find information according to a particular address or ZIP code.
3. Check on the schools.
Even if you don't have children, buying a home in a good school district is an important way to make sure your home maintains its value. You can find information on each school district website or go to www.GreatSchools.com for ratings.
4. Check for local amenities.
You can go to Google Maps for a Street View of a community to see what's nearby, or visit www.WalkScore.com to find out what is within walking distance of the home. If you have a particular activity that you enjoy, such as tennis or golf or swimming, find out how far you'll have to go to get to a facility.
5. Check for neighborhood amenities.
If you're buying within a homeowners association, you can usually find information online about community activities, but even in areas without an association some neighborhoods have frequent community-wide gatherings or sports leagues.
6. Visit the home at different times of day.
If you want to know what it will be like to live somewhere, visit on a weekday, a weeknight and a weekend to see how quiet or active the area will be.
7. Test your commute.
If you only visit a home on a weekend you'll have no idea what the traffic pattern is like during rush hour, which could have a big impact on your enjoyment of the property.
8. Schedule a home inspection.
Your purchase offer should include a home inspection so you know what repairs must be made and about how they will cost. You may or may not be able to negotiate for the seller to pay for home improvements, but it's always better to go into a house with full knowledge of its condition.
9. Talk to the sellers.
If the sellers are willing to share information with you, they're the best resource of all to learn about the community and the house. You can ask the sellers about renovations they've done and even talk to them about whether your plans for the house are possible.
10. Ask about taxes, homeowner association dues, homeowners insurance and utility bills.
Your monthly housing payment includes more than just the principal and interest on your loan. Make sure the taxes, insurance, homeowner association dues and utility bills will fit into your budget.