You’ve heard it time and again: when searching for your new home, be sure to do your homework. But, there’s more to researching than just scoping out the Zestimate. Harness your search-engine stalking skills and take your house hunt online. Just as you can learn details about people, restaurants, and companies from some internet sleuthing, you can also discover some significant details about your potential next residence.
In other words, when house hunting, the internet is your friend.
Whether you’re searching for a home nearby or across the country, doing some search-engine snooping to sift through all the specifics is a must. You never know what you may uncover. Here are some of the major things you should scope out online before you settle on a new home.
1. Pricing, Taxes, and HOA Information
How much will you be paying to live in the area and how much of your hard-earned cash will be going to income, sales, and property taxes? These are major factors you’ll want to learn before deciding on a place to live. Check out this handy chart from Zillow that maps out home values and rental prices over the last 10 years. A quick Google search should also turn up information about taxes and cost of living in the city or county of your choice. This tool from Retirement Living can also give you a rundown on all the taxes in a specific state.
You’ll also want to find out whether the house is part of a homeowners’ association (HOA). By searching the HOA online you can find tons of reviews from previous residents, many of which will give you a glimpse into the area’s amenities and people.
2. Get a Glimpse of the Neighborhood
You can get a pretty good sneak peek of your potential neighborhood from Google’s street view feature. Type the address into Google and click on the image of the property in the results. While on street view, you can get a 360-degree view of the area surrounding the property, and even scroll right on through the rest of the neighborhood. You can also get an aerial view of the neighborhood by clicking on “Satellite.”
Here are some things to look for on your Google Maps stroll:
- Yard size and terrain
- Roof condition
- Proximity to neighbors
- Number of trees and privacy provided by them
- Curb appeal of the home and neighbors’ homes
- Condition of the roads
- Parking availability
3. How Walkable is the Area?
After perusing the house’s surroundings on Google maps, shift your attention to its walkability. This will give you an idea of what it’s actually like living there. Walk Score provides you with a quick look at how walkable a neighborhood is, factoring in things like nearby transit, shopping, restaurants, bars, bike paths, and more.
Whether you have children or not, scope out the quality of schools in the surrounding area. Obviously, if you have children, it’s vital to research some background information on the local school district and see if it’s a good fit for your kids. If you aren’t a parent, it’s important to note that neighborhoods with high quality schools have higher home values. Walk Score and Neighborhood Scout will give you a glimpse into the local area schools, but be sure to do some in-depth research on your own.
4. Peruse Potential Neighborhood Growth
Try searching your potential new neighborhood’s nearest major street or intersection for any recently filed permit applications. If you can’t find anything, try searching the city or county planning departments and look for any plans for expansion in the area. Your new neighborhood could potentially being undergoing some major growth, so it may help to peruse the online applications, note from city council meetings on the permits, and any community forums to learn a little bit about the development issues at hand.
5. How Safe is the Area?
Nobody wants to find out after they’ve moved into their dream home that the neighborhood is unsafe. Whether there are health hazards or high crime rates, it’s important to learn of any safety issues before you choose your new home.
Here are some safety factors you should research:
- Check the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s database of homes that have been identified as drug labs.
- See if the neighborhood is in a flood zone. Also check the drainage capabilities and the ground pitch, as they could impact flooding.
- Browse crime reports to see how many, and what types of crimes have been reported in the neighborhood.
- Check the national sex offender registry to see who is living in or near the neighborhood. If you’re a parent, live alone, or go out late at night, this could impact your safety.
Trulia’s maps do a good job at mapping out everything from high-crime areas to floodplains and natural disaster probabilities. Definitely use these maps to your advantage.
In this digital day and age, not doing your house hunting due-diligence by search-engine snooping can definitely hurt you in the long run. You can find everything from tax information to crime rates to how walkable a neighborhood is from a simple Google query. You can never gather too much information when it comes to buying a home, so get out your laptop and start your search.