Seven Questions to Ask When Buying a Home

Here are seven tough questions you should ask when buying a home:

Q: Has this house ever been damaged in a fire or a disaster such as a flood or an earthquake?
Like a car that has been involved in a major accident, a home that has suffered extensive damage may not have been repaired up to the original standards. Such poor-quality repairs might not be discernable to the average buyer, so it's a good idea to ask this question. Be sure to ask about structures other than the main house, such as a detached garage or swimming pool as well.

Q: Is this property governed by a homeowner's association, tax assessment district or any other entity?
Local boards, homeowner's associations and assessment districts can have extensive powers to collect dues, charge fees, set fines and otherwise dictate or limit how owners can use or modify their property. Some entities can even levy taxes in some states. Find out who's in charge and what the rules are before you buy a home that's governed by a quasi-private board or association.

Q: Have you experienced any nuisances such as noise or other problems in the area or among the neighbors?
Many homeowners enjoy the sounds of city life, but others consider garage bands, barking dogs, loud parties, motorcycles, gasoline-powered leaf-blowers, childcare centers, helicopters, ambulances and the like to be nuisances. To assess the level of noise and other disturbances, visit any home you may want to buy at different times of the day and night, as well as during the week and on the weekend.

Q: Have there been any crimes committed in the neighborhood such as burglaries, car thefts or violent crimes against people?
Few populous areas are completely free of crime, yet some neighborhoods are plagued by specific types of crimes that may be of particular concern to you. Trespassers might suggest the neighborhood wouldn't be safe for young children, while a place that's known to attract car thieves might preclude converting your garage into a workshop, to take just two examples.

Q: Has this home been remodeled and, if so, was the work done with or without permits?
While many older homes may have been attractively remodeled, un-permitted modifications or additions might not comply with local building codes. Some authorities can force homeowners to bring improvements up to code or even dismantle those that were made without the proper permits. If the home was remodeled with permits, ask for copies of the permits and any inspection reports or approvals.

Q: Has this home been vacant or occupied by tenants and, if so, for how long?
Homes that are vacant or occupied by renters may not be as well maintained as owner-occupied homes. Repairs and amenities may be of lower quality in such homes as well. You may also want to ask whether any nearby homes are vacant or tenant-occupied.

Q: Are you aware of any other information that you would want to know about this house if you were going to buy it yourself?
This catch-all question may help you find out adverse facts about the home that you wouldn't otherwise be told. A seller or realty agent might be forthcoming in response to this type of direct question. You may also want to familiarize yourself with any state laws that require disclosure of material information about for-sale homes.

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