If you’ve fallen in love with a house, you shouldn’t make an offer right away. There could be important information that the real estate agent doesn’t know or isn’t legally allowed to disclose, but you could get a fuller picture by talking to other people: the neighbors. They will likely give you the unvarnished truth, and some of the things they say might cause you to pass on what you thought was your dream home.
How to Talk to Neighbors
If you see people outside while you’re in the neighborhood, simply introduce yourself, tell them you’re thinking about buying a house on the street and ask if they’d mind answering a few questions. This may feel awkward or intimidating, but people are often surprisingly forthcoming. Open-ended questions are best.
Ask residents to describe what it’s like to live in the neighborhood. If a few people immediately respond with positive comments, that’s a great sign. On the other hand, if they mention negative things, such as noise, crime or litter, that might make you think twice about buying the house.
Ask about the local schools, even if you don’t have kids. If you have children in the future, good schools will be important. Even if you never have kids, or if your children have already completed their education, the quality of the local schools will still be relevant to you. Good schools are associated with higher property values. If you buy a house in the neighborhood and decide to sell it in the future, prospective buyers will be more interested and pay more if it’s located in a good school district.
Ask about the social character of the neighborhood. Some people like the idea of having close relationships with their neighbors and socializing on a regular basis, while others prefer privacy. In some communities, block parties and ball games in the street are considered fun bonding activities. If those activities sound like nuisances to you, you might want to consider looking for a home elsewhere.
Ask about the homeowners association, if there is one, or about local government services, such as trash collection, road maintenance, snow removal, and parks and recreation facilities. If the HOA is overly strict or if the local government neglects important services, current residents will tell you.
Ask the neighbors if there’s anything you should know about the specific house you’re considering. If the owners neglected maintenance, that should be a red flag. A leaky roof, crumbling foundation or basement that floods would be expensive to repair. If those types of problems exist, the owners have likely discussed them with some of the neighbors.
Strike Up Friendly Conversations
Talking to potential neighbors can help you gain helpful insights about a property and community you’re considering. Start with open-ended questions, and ask any relevant follow-up ones. Talk to as many people as possible to get a range of viewpoints.