What to Ask Before You Buy

After using the Internet to seek out new areas, check them out, live and in person. “If you have a vacation coming up, pick a region, rent a car, and drive around to take a look,” advises Evelyn Fazio, co-author of Staying Sane When You’re Buying or Selling Your Home. Once you set foot in the area, ask yourselves…

Do people have home pride?

Sometimes you can judge a book—or a house—by its cover. Houses that aren’t kept up can either signal an area full of renters or a town on the decline. But if people are clearly investing in their properties, it’s a great sign that they’re staying put because they like the town and believe that their homes are good investments.

Who’s hanging out?

Do people spend time outside? And are they the right kind of people? Do you feel comfortable saying hi to anyone? Are firefighters present at the local firehouse? Do packs of loud teenagers hang out on the corner? Depending on your observations, that neighborhood may or may not be a good fit.

What’s the downtown vibe?

If your potential home doesn’t have a downtown, make sure you eat at some of the local restaurants. Are you cool with a strip of chain restaurants? Or do you really want that mom-and pop feel?

What does it look like at night?

A cute neighborhood can look a lot different at night. So—together—you should walk or drive around town when the sun goes down.

Who are my future neighbors?

Make sure that your trip takes place during a weekend because that’s when people are more likely going to be out and about. If there’s a local coffee shop, get a cup and sit and listen because, chances are, some of these people will be your neighbors. Don’t be afraid to ask them some questions.

Is the police report positive?

Ask the local police department for a crime log (most big cities will have them online, but many small towns won’t). You’ll see exactly what’s going on, and where. The local newspaper will also give you a good indication of the crime rate.

What’s rush hour like?

Take the route to work when traffic is at its heaviest to find out what your commute would be like during rush hours. Even if your dream home is 10 miles away from work, it could take much longer in traffic, and that doesn’t make any homecoming welcoming.

Can we rent before we buy?

If you’re still not sure and need to move ASAP, consider renting. This lets you really get to know the neighborhood before forking over a down payment.

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