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Buyer beware: 5 red flags within the online home search

Real estate websites offer you convenience and control when you’re looking to buy a new home. They feature home search options that let you customize your choices at a granular level, including price range, square footage, bed and bathroom count, and acreage, among other filters. And if you know what to look for, these sites can also clue you into potential problems that homes of interest may have.

As you compile the list of properties you’d like to live in one day, note the areas of concern you have and ask your real estate agent about them before taking a tour. Below are five pieces of listing information on real estate web sites that might tip you off about problem homes.

Market time

You’re certain you’ve found your dream house. It’s in your price range and located in the vibrant neighborhood with good schools that you’ve been reading about in the paper. Every box is checked on your personal ‘needs list’: 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 2850+ square feet, a new kitchen and a big, beautiful back yard. And then you see how long it’s been posted: 558 days. Oh boy. There is no consensus among professionals as to what the maximum time of home listing should be in order to attract buyers, but if it’s been on the market for multiple months or more than a year, it may be safe to assume that one of two things is happening: 1- its listing price is too high, or 2- there is something unattractive about the property that is keeping it from selling.

Heating/cooling

When you’re searching for a new home online, it’s important to think about your relative comfort during seasonal extremes. If you live in a hotter part of the country, air conditioning is a must. Conversely, if you live in the Midwest or Northeast, efficient and reliable heating will be a big concern. Certain terms will tip you off if the home you’re considering doesn’t have central heat or air conditioning: Pellet stove, wood stove, window unit, wall heater, multi-zone, multi-split, and ductless, among others. However, if you’re more tolerant of temperature fluctuations, non-HVAC systems may save you money while reducing your carbon footprint.

Drainage

To some folks, not having a municipal sewer system is a deal-breaker when looking for the perfect home. If the idea of wastewater sitting under the lawn in a big tank is unattractive to you, look for the word ‘septic’ within the home’s description. Septic tanks are really the only option for rural properties, and they’re not a bad option because they’re generally less expensive due to zero municipal obligations. If you find a home in a city or large town and it isn’t integrated into the sewer system, you’ll want to find out why. A brand new home that hasn’t been hooked up to the city sewer system may involve significant future or front-end costs that might not be disclosed in the online listing.

Location

You want to be close enough to the city to give you modern convenience when you need it, but far enough away so you get that sense of separation from the hustle and bustle. When you’re conducting your online search, you might come upon a house that looks perfect in every way… until you zoom out in the bird’s-eye view. If the house is close to a freeway, airport or active train tracks, you can expect noise! Look for at least a one-mile sound buffer from trains, planes and automobiles if peace and quiet is important to you.

Pictures

You love to garden and fish, and you desire mountain views and access to hiking trails. One house you’ve found online is set on 15 acres of mixed woods and meadows, and backs up to a river and national forest. Image after image reflects the beauty and pristine surroundings of this rural palace. But wait, what about the inside? If the listing you like only includes outdoor images but few interior shots, your suspicions should be raised. Ask your real estate agent to send detailed shots of the actual house before you seriously consider it for purchase.


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