No matter how carefully home buyers do their homework, certain tasks on the home-buying to-do list often fall through the cracks. And not tiny ones, either! We're talking about oversights that can lead to major money down the drain, battles with local government or the homeowners association, and other regret-filled dramas that could have been easily avoided -- that is, had home buyers known where these issues were hiding a bit earlier.
Don't let this happen to you!
Review some of the top things buyers forget to do when shopping for a home.
Oversight No. 1: Considering the home's resale value
Sure, you're buying a home. And yet, you must think like a seller.
"Few buyers stay in their homes for 30 years like our parents did," says real estate expert Brendon DeSimone, author of "Next Generation Real Estate." "Today, people are more mobile and things change quickly, like job transfers. Life happens." And that's why home buyers should consider how easy a home will be to sell later on -- and stick to properties with broad appeal rather than quirks that appeal only to a rare few, like a kitchen in the basement or brightly colored bathroom tiles.
"Talk to your agent about trends in your neighborhood and whether they think your home would sell for the same amount two years, five years, or 10 years down the road," advises Realtor Avery Boyce of Washington, DC's Compass Real Estate. "Buying a home should make financial sense now, but if circumstances make this home no longer the right one within a few years, you don't want to be in a tricky financial situation while trying to sell."
Oversight No. 2: Factoring in the expenses you'll face after you buy
"People focus so much on mortgage payments and closing costs," says DeSimone. "What they don't realize, until after the fact, is that there are expenses like oil or propane and landscaping that are built into homeownership."
To make sure the bottom line will be within your means, ask the seller for a property expense list to get an idea of what you will actually be paying out each month. Then, consider the reserve that you'll need for typical maintenance. Rule of thumb: Plan on setting aside 1% of the home's total value annually for upkeep and repairs.
Oversight No. 3: Rooting out any restrictions
All too often buyers learn the hard way that their property comes with restrictions. Say, they can't park wherever they want, or they discover their house is within a historic district that prohibits renovations or additions to a home.
"Buyers will need to check with the city, review the preliminary title report and seller disclosures," says Beverly Hills, CA, Realtor Steven Aaron. For good reason: Once you become the owner, any restorations fall on you. Zoning, title issues, or covenants go with the property, not the seller.
Oversight No. 4: Checking that past work was up to code
The seller is responsible for disclosing any renovations, nonpermitted work, and items not up to code. But just as things aren't always done to the letter, sellers aren't always totally honest about what's been changed -- or how. That's why buyers need to check any and all past permits to make sure that the work was done and signed off on by the local municipality, says DeSimone.
"If you see a newer bathroom or bonus room or kitchen, and there is no permit on record, that's a huge red flag because once you own it, and you go to do any work or apply for a permit and they see work was done without a permit, you will be responsible for it."
Why is that such a big deal? Consider this: "If it was done improperly, or not to code, you may have to tear it out and start over again."
Oversight No. 5: Getting the scoop on the HOA
"Never close on a home without doing serious due diligence on the homeowners association," says DeSimone. While HOAs are ideally supportive and make living in a community convenient, some have been known to have a darker side complete with corruption and drama. Just ask Greensboro, NC, parents Jessica and Karl Ronnevik, whose HOA recently threatened them with a fine if they didn't quiet their 1-year-old baby's crying.
"And if there is an upcoming assessment, or there are delinquent homeowners," says DeSimone, "the HOA, and you, will have to cough up the money to cover it!"
Oversight No. 6: Doing your homework on the neighborhood
Crime rates, school rankings, and traffic patterns, oh my! The home itself is just one aspect of what makes a property a good buy. Buyers often forget that "the neighborhood should be inspected as much as the property," says DeSimone, who insists that shoppers should walk their block at different times of the day and talk to neighbors to get a better feel. After all, the house may be gorgeous, but if you're unhappy with your neighbors or the overall environment outside your door, it probably isn't the right place for you.
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