Here are some GREAT tips to get the skinny on houses that have made it to your hot list. Fire up your Google!
Search-engine sleuthing is worth the effort to unearth the niceties — and perhaps negatives — when searching for your new home.
There’s probably not a day that goes by that you don’t Google something — the weather, a foreign phrase, directions, or news, just to name a few. With all the information Google can provide through its bird’s eye view, not Googling your address is practically a crime — especially when you’re searching for a new home (whether you’re house-hunting for a waterfront home in Benicia, or looking for a ranch house in Vacaville). Here’s what you could find.
Get a sense of the neighborhood using Google’s Street View
We can’t transport ourselves Star Trek–style to other places … yet, so the next best experience may be Google’s Street View, sort of a pre-virtual-reality experience. Simply type in an address, and if there’s an image of the property in the results, click on it. Other factors to note while on your Google stroll? Scope out yard size, proximity to neighbors, how many trees are on the property and the privacy provided by them, a view of the front of the home, a view of the neighbors’ homes (such as any nearby eyesores or hoarders), and the size of nearby roads. Don’t forget to use the aerial view while you’re at it, because it might let you know the condition of the roof (but keep in mind the image could be old.)
A caveat: Google Street View can be outdated, so it’s possible you could be looking at old news. The house you’re interested in might have been newly renovated, but you wouldn’t know that if the remodel happened after Google was there.
2. Map the proximity of the house to potential health hazards
The last thing anyone wants is to find out their dream home is located near a former meth lab or directly under a busy flight path. These aren’t just concerns for comfort; in unfortunate (and rare) cases, homes can be health hazards. When house hunting, be sure to search for whether or not that Los Angeles home for sale is in a safe area. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration maintains a database of homes that have been identified as drug labs, and some of these properties require intensive, expensive cleanup before they can be healthfully inhabited. Radon and industrial and airport zones are also pretty easily discoverable with a Google search and, in most states, via disclosures that most sellers will provide. (Some people find living near an airport or other noisy zone impacts their sleep, even if there is no chemical concern.)
3. Imagine your life in this home and its neighborhood
One of the deciding factors for saying “yes” to a house is if you can imagine yourself living there. Seeing listing photos and stats can let you know whether the house meets your specifications, but sometimes — especially with a long-distance home search — but to really imagine yourself living in that neighborhood could be difficult. Googling can help).
Kids can scope out their potential new school and spot signs of other kids living nearby, you might map your drive to the office, learn whether there’s a local farmer’s market nearby, or look to see whether the house is in a danger zone.
4. Get valuable details about the HOA
When you buy a home that is part of a homeowners’ association (HOA), you should receive the bylaws in advance of your purchase. But if you dig a little deeper by Googling the association’s name, you could find out that your new HOA is one of a surprisingly large number of HOAs that have been reviewed online. Grab your popcorn, because you’ll most likely find a variety of rants (and raves) about the subdivision, complex managers, neighbors, and amenities.
5. Scope out the neighborhood’s potential growth
Will you jump for joy to learn that Whole Foods is coming to town? Or is that just the sort of growth you’re trying to escape? Google your potential new neighborhood’s nearest major street or intersection for permit applications that have been filed recently. You might get lucky. If not, try searching the city or county planning departments. This can help you discover community plans for expansion in that area. Reading the online applications — and any notes from city council meetings discussing the permits — might help you understand the landscape of community-development issues at hand.