By: Karen Laurence Special to the Boca and Delray newspapers
There are many crucial details that must be noted when buying a house. You have now narrowed down the choice down to your dream house. It has the right number of bedrooms, bathrooms, and even has enough storage. There is a little vegetable garden in the back (you always wanted to grow your own veggies) and has the back yard large enough for the swing set or pool. What if there is some hidden problems that you cannot see?
A cracked sewer or water supply line, old style wiring instead of copper, a nasty neighbor, or code violations when a renovation was done. These are all red flags that you need to watch out for so this house does not turn into a money pit or some other type of real estate nightmare. You usually find this out through a thorough inspection of the property by a reliable, recommended property inspector.
Once a problem has surfaced, ask the owner to give you a credit for the work to be done. Either they pay for it, ask you to share the burden, or flatly say no. Because it is so hard to find that house, most first time buyers will try to make light of what can be a serious issue because they have fallen in love with the house. This is their dream house. If the seller is not amenable to the repair, it is time to walk away from the “dream” or you will end up with a horror story.
Here are some things you need to be on guard against.
A great home inspector will point out every little thing that is wrong with a property; one not as good will miss that one flaw that can cost you thousands of dollars in remediation in years to come. Small things, such as a leaky faucet, can be easily negotiated with the seller. It is the big ticket items that can only be fixed for a hefty amount that sellers seem to balk at. Even when told that the next buyer will want it repaired, the seller will not do it. Then it is time to consider another house option.
The bigger red flag issue is usually structural damage. Cracks in the foundation can be a sign of a sinking house or one that was poorly constructed. In Florida, especially after a hurricane, there can be water damage to the slab foundation or under it, the roof, or the interior walls. And of course damage from mold or mold sites that were not treated properly. If the house sits near water, many Florida homesites are alongside man-made lakes, there can be flooding if they are not properly drained when rain is excessive. There are also trees and bushes’ roots that can damage water lines. Elevation should be checked as well as the property being in a flood zone which should cause the owner to carry a flood insurance premium. Flood insurance is usually expensive, especially after a hurricane or flood.
The title report is one source where you will find most of the problems. You can sometimes be pro-active and call the county or run a report that will show what permits have been started and not closed. Or the repairs are not up to code. There are some liens that can be the seller’s responsibility because they are attached to the property such as a mechanics lien. There can be open permits or fence permits that need to be closed or corrected due to a fence blown down by a hurricane or tornado or a fence that is over the property line. This is one reason why a survey should be used to determine the boundaries when you or your neighbor is putting up that pool or fence.
A seller’s disclosure form is usually available but if the owner has never lived on the property, or the children are selling it, it is not usually filled out so you lose some of the good or bad history of the house. If the house has been renovated recently, contractor’s bills must be paid prior to closing as that lien would transfer along with the house. Another reason for and the importance of for a title search.
You can’t pick your neighbors if they move in after you but if before you, you can get an idea of what they are like. A good practice when buying a home is to knock on the door to either side of you and across the street. You can say you are moving into the neighborhood and want to find out how they like living there. You can even ask how the Homeowner’s Association is performing. Be wary of an Association that is often sued or does a lot of suing, or has low reserves. Lenders check these things but a cash buyer may not know to do this. Fortunately, Florida regulations demand that the buyer be given the Association documents prior to closing. If not given those documents in a timely fashion, the buyer can call the sale off.
This also relates to a major assessment that may coming, such as a roof repair or a clubhouse remodeling, that the seller is aware of. Ask the question so that it possibly can be figured into the sale price. Sellers are usually responsible for a current assessment to be paid in full before the closing. If there is one coming in the next few years, and it is extensive, it could be tens of thousands of dollars.
If the home is not in an association, look at the neighboring properties and see how well they are maintained. Visit the property at different times of the day and night to find out how rush hour affects the property, where the school bus stops, and at night for safety and traffic reasons.
Pay attention to the warning signs or red flags that pop up. If you cannot get the owner to make the major repair or pay the contractor his due, it is time to think of another house.
Karen Laurence is a sales associate with Keller Williams Company. She is a Technical Real Estate Instructor, Real Estate Agent and Certified Luxury Agent. 516-524-3953.