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Home Buying 101

Searching for a Home

Could Future Plans and Projects Affect Your New Home?

That dream home might become a nightmare if a garbage landfill or six-lane highway starts up close by. How do you reduce the risk of unforeseen detractions popping up near your new home?

In general, the risks are lower if you search in an established residential neighborhood with relatively few vacant lots, says Mike Crowley of Spokane Home Buyers in Spokane. They’re higher if there are many vacant lots or large undeveloped areas nearby. Here are some of the key sources for information about the neighborhood surrounding your prospective home.

Your Real Estate Agent
Look for an agent with extensive experience in your favorite neighborhoods, says Crowley, who serves as Past-President of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents. Agents are more likely to know about development plans. Some agents will also have access to tax databases that record lot ownership.

Local Media
Local newspapers and business journals report on major development plans. Or try a Google News search on the subdivision name.

Government Records
Several kinds of records are useful to homebuyers. City or county master plans envision development for five to 10 years or longer—though these plans do not always come to fruition. Tax assessment records record lot-by-lot ownership changes. (If you’re curious about plans for a particular lot near your home, you could inquire directly with the owner.) Zoning maps describe legally acceptable types of developments for lots near your home. And look for new construction or zoning change applications for lots near the home. Depending on your local government, these documents can be found with the tax commissioner, or at planning, zoning, or permitting departments.

Benjamin Clark, a real estate agent from Salt Lake City, offers to knock on neighbors’ doors with his clients after a home is under contract. Residents will often reveal neighborhood issues that sellers and their agents have neglected to mention, Clark says. Neighbors have told his clients about suspicious activity, factory odors, and leaky sewage pipes.

Neighborhood Associations
These civic groups include longtime residents who keep abreast of local developments. Reach out to the group’s president or officers. Some associations have an online presence where they post meeting minutes or host discussion groups. Try searching online under your subdivision’s name.

You can’t control the future, Crowley warns. Development plans, zoning designations, and lot ownerships can all change over time. “If you don’t like risk, then don’t buy a home that is not in an established neighborhood,” he says. “Everyone has to decide their own level of risk.”