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More Valuable Central Ohio Real Estate Tips

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A Home With a History
Advice From Real Estate Agents
Affordable Real Estate
Bargain Homes
Diamonds in the Rough
Get Rich Quick With Real Estate
House Bargains
Less Than Central Ohio Market Value
Such A Deal
The Inspection Report
Tips for First Time Investors
Buyers Remorse
Closing Your House
Do Not Panic
Dream Versus Reality
First Time Buyers
First Time Loans
For Sale to SOLD
Patience is Required
Real Estate Jitters
The Blues of Buyers
What Can Go Wrong
Beware of Fat Clay
Building and Designing
Building Considerations
Building With Help From Brokers
Buying New Or Adding On
Buying New or Buying Old
Buying Property to Build
From the Ground Up
How Easements Affect Your Land
Lot Location
New Homes in Central Ohio, New Albany and Columbus
Testing the Soil
The Zoning Variance
What About the Water

Don't see what you're looking for? Check out our additional "Central Ohio, New Albany and Columbus Real Estate Tips" or let us know! We are always eager to help with no-obligation advice and answers to any of your real estate questions.

A Home With a History

A colorful history can add significantly to the value of a home. Researching the provenance of a property you are interested in buying can be both interesting and ultimately profitable. The market value of a home will be greater if it was designed by a notable architect, built by a company with a reputation for the finest construction, or lived in by a celebrity who hosted famous guests.

Ask your real estate agent if there is any historical data of significance associated with the home, or if previous owners were VIPs. Note the names associated with the deed and title to the home, and look them up with the help of the local historical society. Consult the microfiche in newspaper archives for references to colorful details of the home's past. The county assessor's office may have records of the date the home was built, and building permits may reveal the name of the architect. When inspecting the home, search closets and attics carefully for hidden historical "treasures".

Buying an older home at a bargain price, then re-selling when it is renovated and restored can be an enjoyable and lucrative adventure.

Advice From Real Estate Agents

When buying a home, it is essential to cooperate as closely as possible with your real estate agent. This can be challenging, especially if your agent asks you to do some things that you don't particularly want to do to in order to get you moved into your new home as quickly as possible.

When real estate agents advise you regarding ways to make the transaction work, they are acting as part coach and part business consultant. If you find the house you love and want to "sleep on" the decision for a few days, the agent knows that you run the risk of losing the house. If you are inclined to complicate your offer with clauses that might make the contract unattractive to the sellers, the agent may ask you to consider some modifications. Should you call the week before the closing with an attack of "buyer's remorse", your agent knows the cure. Following your real estate agent's suggestions will increase your chances for a successful move!

Affordable Real Estate

Are you still writing those checks to your landlord every month to keep a roof over your head, but not accumulating any home equity? If you are still renting because you think you still need a fortune to get into your own home, you should investigate today's real estate market.

Interest rates are still relatively low, which means that mortgage loans are affordable, with payments potentially in the range of your current monthly rent. Qualifying for a loan was never easier, especially since lenders have increased in large numbers and are competing for your business. Even if you couldn't qualify to buy a home just a few years ago, you may be able to qualify today. There are a number of government programs and mortgage packages which require small down payments, in the three to five percent range--and that is not even talking about the tax advantages! Think about it the next time you write a rent check.

Bargain Homes

Most buyers want a home that is in tip-top condition and ready for them to occupy, but many homes sell for bargain prices because they need work. Buyers love "fixer-uppers" for the obvious reasons: the affordable price and the satisfaction of remodeling the house to accommodate your tastes and needs.

Whether you are buying the property for yourself or as an investment, choose a house that is in a good location and structurally sound. It should be priced enough below market value (usually 25%) to allow plenty of room for a profitable re-sale after the work is completed.

It is important to educate yourself before taking on a fixer-upper project. Inexpensive cosmetic improvements often give the greatest return on your investment-- paint will increase the value three times for every dollar invested. Landscaping, carpeting, and light fixtures are also relatively inexpensive improvements. Try to avoid purchasing a house that needs expensive structural improvements such as a new roof, plumbing, wiring, or foundation repairs.

Remodeling a kitchen will rarely add more than the cost of the upgrade, but new appliances usually give a fine return. An extra bathroom is the best renovation from an investment point of view, often giving twice its cost in added value

Diamonds in the Rough

There are a lot of "diamonds in the rough" for sale. A property with incredible potential may be in a great location, have large sunny rooms and a big yard, but it may also have dated wall paper, worn carpeting, and uninspired bathrooms. If you can look beyond the surface, you may see a house that could be transformed by a little "elbow grease", paint, and new carpets.

A house that is structurally sound with all the systems in good condition may be only a few cosmetic repairs away from being fantastic! A home that does not show well is usually priced accordingly. If the price doesn't reflect the condition of the house, the seller may be more willing to negotiate than a seller who has made a considerable investment in preparing a home for the market.

Bring your imagination with you on your next house hunting trip! You may be pleasantly surprised to find a diamond in the rough.

Get Rich Quick with Real Estate

You see them on cable TV, sitting around a swimming pool, sharing stories about how they got rich quick by buying valuable real estate for give-away prices. They took a course on how to invest in real estate and became millionaires overnight--with nothing down and no credit hassles from mortgage lenders. The course worked for them, and they say it will work for you, too.

If all this sounds too good to be true--it is! These "get-rich-quick" courses and schemes are being investigated by consumer fraud agencies around the country. This does not mean that you can't become a millionaire by investing in real estate. But investing in real estate requires one important thing from you--an investment of cash. You can't build an empire overnight, but you can do very well over the long term by selecting property in a good location that is priced well, and which can provide a reasonable cash flow.

House Bargains

Houses that are spotlessly clean and tastefully decorated tend to sell quickly, and for top dollar. There can be substantial savings for home-buyers who are willing to purchase a property that needs cosmetic improvements.

When you look at a house that needs work, try to imagine it with fresh paint, refinished floors and new carpet. Consider the attractive features of the home. Would it get more sunlight if the draperies were opened and the windows cleaned? Does the back yard have potential?

Try to distinguish between the cosmetic condition of the house and the state of its structure and major systems. Some fixer-uppers need a lot of professional attention from electricians, plumbers and other expensive professionals, while others are true bargains that can be transformed with a little elbow grease, a paint brush, and your imagination.

Less Than Market Value

Real estate ads are sprinkled with terminology that often puzzles consumers who don't have applied knowledge of housing industry lingo. Internet homebuyers find that information about properties is often presented in abbreviated form or unfamiliar language. Shedding a little light on some basic real estate terms may help you locate a home that is available at a very affordable price.

'MLS' refers to the Central Ohio area Multiple Listing Service, which is the national database of listed homes for sale. Some real estate web sites allow home buyers to preview local listings that appear on the MLS. If you see a real estate ad for a "FSBO", it means that the property is for sale by the owner, who is declining the services of a Realtor. A home listed "As-is" is being sold in its existing condition. A "bargain sale" home is priced at less than its market value, and a "fixer-upper" is priced low because it needs refurbishing.

Such A Deal

Most sellers know that buyers are attracted to homes that are spotlessly clean, well-maintained and tastefully decorated. Sometimes the seller can't make the extra effort to prepare the home for showing. Some real estate listings are being sold to settle estates or by someone who has been transferred unexpectedly and didn't have time to complete the necessary cosmetic repairs. Homes that need work are often exceptional values.

When a real estate agent shows you a house that needs help, try to imagine how it would look with new carpet, a fresh coat of paint and your furniture settled inside. Because the condition and overall appeal of a house have such an impact on the selling price, "fixer-uppers" are often priced lower than comparable homes. If the home is structurally sound and has updated systems, a small investment of "elbow grease" and paint could make it look fabulous.

The Inspection Report

Are you looking for a home and becoming tired of house-hunting? If so, you may be tempted to buy a bargain-priced home "as is" and forego the home inspection. But without the inspection report, do you know what the "as it" refers to? Wouldn't it be better to know what condition the home is in before you buy it?

The inspection contingency allows the buyer to enlist the services of a licensed home inspector within three to seven days after the purchase agreement is signed. The inspector will go over the property from top to bottom, evaluating the condition of all the basic systems and structures of the home in order to identify conditions that may be considered material defects and thus may affect the market value or the safety of the home.

The inspector's report is the only documented proof of the actual condition of the property that is being sold. It is a valuable tool that helps you negotiate the sales contract and gives you information about future maintenance projects. The cost of an inspection is well worth the peace of mind it provides.

Tips for First Time Investors

When starting out as a real estate investor, you can choose either the conservative approach of holding a property until it increases in value or the riskier approach of "flipping" - reselling very soon after making some improvements that add value. If you plan on taking the safer approach, keep the following factors in mind when searching for the right investment property.

Look for a house or apartment unit that is close to where you live, so inspecting the property and overseeing maintenance will be easier. Choose an area where there is clear potential for future development, and you will benefit from the inevitable increase in property values. If you have the choice of either buying a newly built or recently remodeled home or a less expensive house in the same neighborhood that needs a cosmetic makeover, buy the bargain property and upgrade it for a better long-term return on your investment.

 

 

Buyers Remorse

If you are like most buyers who sign a purchase agreement on a new home, you will almost certainly feel a wave of overwhelming anxiety. You may begin to question your judgement -- did I pay too much? Is it the right home? Can I really afford the mortgage payments? How can I get out of it? This response--referred to as "Buyer's Remorse"--is completely normal!

Call your friends who have owned a home for a few years if you experience an attack of buyer's remorse. Are they bothered by rapidly escalating home prices? Probably not, because that means the value of their home is increasing. Did they feel anxious when they first signed the agreement? They may tell you that they felt just as anxious as you are feeling, but now are really glad that they went through with the purchase. Have they made improvements to the property that heightened their enjoyment of the home? They will probably say they much prefer the creative freedom of being a homeowner compared with having to ask the landlord's permission to put in a garden or paint the living room.

When you experience a buyer's panic attack, be strong -- you have a great deal to gain!

Closing Your House

If you are selling your house, you may have to jump through a few hoops between the time you and the buyer reach an agreement and the time the money and deed change hands. The structural inspector usually finds a few things that need to be repaired or replaced, and the termite inspection may reveal the presence of unwanted pests. Most buyers will also have a list of items that they want the seller to fix.

The ideal is to have your home as perfect condition as possible in time for the walk-through inspection prior to closing. If you have agreed to complete repairs on your home, it is a good idea to get an early start on the work so there will be plenty of time to correct any "surprises" that may be found. Call several companies to get competitive bids for the work that needs to be done or ask your real estate agent for recommendations.

Presenting the buyers with a clean, well-maintained home will make the process a lot easier for them, especially if they get a case of last-minute jitters.

Do Not Panic

Many home buyers have experienced the alternating waves of excitement and regret that can occur when the real estate agent presents your offer to the sellers and they accept it. At first you will probably feel ecstatic--unless you wake up the next morning, covered with a rash and asking yourself, "What on earth have I just done?"

Occasionally agents get a morning-after call from buyers who will do anything to get out of the commitment they just made. If you are purchasing a home and find yourself in this condition, there are two important things to remember. First, your rash accompanies a very common condition called "Buyers' Remorse". Almost everyone who buys a house experiences this feeling, with varying degrees of intensity, sometime between making the initial offer and finalizing the sale.

Second, you should know that the anguish of buyer's remorse is almost always temporary. If you experience a sudden panic attack over your home purchase, call your real estate agent immediately. Postpone making any radical decision about backing out of the contract until you have considered things carefully and rationally with your agent.

Dream Versus Reality

When you decide to buy a home, you may feel resistance to fulfilling the many practical requirements that are necessary to turn your dream into a reality. An important part of a professional real estate agent's job is to help you overcome such resistance.

You will need to handle a multitude of details when purchasing a property. There are numerous deadlines that require a timely response. Home purchases come with a lot of paperwork, such as the financial statement and purchase agreement. Negotiations with the seller are a standard part of the process. All of these practical "realities" can seem overwhelming.

You may experience a startling range of emotions at each step of the way, from mild anxiety to full-blown "buyer's remorse". It helps to remember that everyone who has purchased a home has probably experienced similar feelings. Just take a deep breath and trust your real estate agent, who is trained to help you deal with the pressures of the home-buying process.

First Time Buyers

People who are selling their homes should know something about the market group from which their buyers are likely to appear. Many homes are perfect for a first-time buyer. First-time buyers are making a major purchase they have never attempted before, and may be unusually subject to the inevitable stress and anxiety that goes with buying a home.

First-time home buyers are usually younger (between 25 and 34 years of age) and have distinct buying patterns. First-timers are often looking for homes that are smaller, and perhaps older, than repeat buyers. The median home size for first-time buyers is about 1450 square feet. Approximately four in ten first-timers will buy homes built before 1960, compared to two in ten repeat buyers.

First-time buyers are in the process of developing a clearly defined sense of what they want in a house. They may not have enough money to buy their ultimate dream home at first, but seventy-four percent say they like their new home better than their previous residence.

 

First Time Loans

Most first-time buyers can qualify for a mortgage loan, but they may need help from parents to make the down payment or closing costs on their home. There are loan programs that minimize the down payment and closing costs for first-time buyers. These programs usually require that 3 to 5 percent of the purchase price come from the buyers' funds, not from a loan or gift. Most lenders ask for the last three months' bank records. The borrower will be asked to reveal the origin of any large deposits. If the money comes from the home buyer's parents, the lender may not consider those funds when qualifying the buyers.

Parents who are planning to help their children finance a home should transfer any funds several months before the house-hunting process begins. If it is a loan rather than a gift, a formal re-payment agreement should be drawn up between parents and children to eliminate potential misunderstandings or future complications with either estate.

 

For Sale to SOLD

It takes a lot more than a "For Sale" sign in the front yard, a Multiple Listing entry, and an occasional ad in the classifieds to get a listing sold. When real estate agents sell a house, we sometimes have to "sell" it again and again before the contract is actually signed by the buyers and sellers.

Many events must occur before the closing. The house must be "sold" to the buyers' relatives, the home inspector, the appraiser, and other experts. The buyers must secure a mortgage. At some point during the process, the buyers may go through a serious case of "buyers' remorse" and consider backing out of the transaction. Since the transaction could potentially fall through at any step in the process, you will find the services of a professional real estate agent invaluable. Agents continue to present the house in the best light possible and use their professional skills to solve any problems that may arise

 

Patience is Required

Sellers often have to deal with a buyer's anxiety. For example, you may have reached an agreement with your buyers and signed the paperwork for the sale of your home. After all of the documents were signed, however, the buyers began to behave strangely, getting somewhat agitated and making additional demands.

It is important to remember that people experience a high level of stress when they are buying a house. Your buyers may be suffering from "Buyers Remorse"-- that intense feeling that they have paid too much and that the house is going to fall down as soon as they assume ownership. They may start questioning the fine points of the structural integrity of your home or ask you to include your new washer and dryer and power mower in the transaction.

Don't take it personally if your buyers begin going through the "home-buying jitters". Be patient, and allow the real estate agent to do whatever "hand holding" is necessary to get the buyers happily settled in your home.

 

Real Estate Jitters

Here is a typical scenario illustrating the effects of buyer's remorse. Your home was on the market for a few weeks, and you are now feeling fortunate because an attractive offer has been presented by qualified buyers. Once the ink dried on the contract forms, however, it seemed that everything suddenly threatened to come unraveled.

Once the buyers' earnest money check cleared their account, they suddenly came up with a list of concerns that never occurred to them before the purchase agreement was signed. Their fears and demands have turned them into touchy adversaries instead of the sweet young couple looking forward to starting a family. How could the atmosphere have changed so quickly?

Buyers and sellers are both susceptible to different forms of stress reaction known in the real estate field as "Buyers' Remorse" and "Sellers' Remorse". Fortunately, neither one of these conditions is contagious to real estate agents! An important part of our job is to help our sellers and buyers through their buying or selling jitters with understanding and humor.

 

The Blues of Buyers

Here is an illustration of what you might go through as a homebuyer when the real estate agent calls to say that your offer has just been accepted.

Although you are ecstatic when your agent congratulates you, your initial euphoria may be short-lived if you begin to have second thoughts about the purchase. You may look at the amount of cash required for the down payment and closing costs, and feel that you won't be able to enjoy a restaurant meal or a shopping spree for months! The mortgage added to the interest payments over thirty years seems like an outrageously high sum. Finally, you stare at the inspector's report and convince yourself that the roof will blow off and every major system will fail the day after you move in. You're in a frenzy. You ask yourself, "What am I doing?"

If you begin having doubts about your home purchase, the wisest approach is simply to relax! These feelings are so common that they have been given a name--"Buyer's Remorse." "Buyer's Remorse" is almost always a temporary malady, so please call your real estate agent if you are having an extreme attack. Your agent has experience in helping clients through the home-buying jitters.

 

What Can Go Wrong

Real estate transactions are very complex, and difficulties can arise. One common form of interference can come in the innocent guise of helpful advice from family and friends.

When you buy your first home, you want the best advice you can get. You want to show the house to friends and relatives before you commit. They will probably tell you about all of the things that went wrong during their own transactions so you can avoid the same mistakes. These people all have good intentions, but too much advice can put you into a state of high anxiety.

If you are buying your home with the help of a professional real estate agent, your agent will know how to make sure that any minor upsets do not turn into major problems. A real estate agent's expertise is based on formal training and experience in many real estate transactions. Their reputation is on the line with each sale, so they are highly motivated to make your purchase or sale go as smoothly as possible. When you are dealing with a professional real estate agent, you can worry about what might go wrong if you wish, but you don't have to!

 

Beware of Fat Clay

When building a home, you should have the soil on the construction site tested for plasticity to determine how it will change under different moisture conditions. This is important because some soil is so "plastic" that (if the condition is not corrected) it can actually break concrete floors, crack the walls and destroy the foundation of your home. Highly plastic soil is sometimes referred to as "fat clay" that swells excessively and loses stability when it becomes wet. Fine-grained soils that contain a high percentage of clay are greatly affected by water, turning to mud when it rains and undergoing large volume changes-sometimes up to 40 or 50 percent, as the soil dries. Not only do clays swell and lose stability when they become wet, but they also retard the drainage of water. If plastic soil is found on your building site, the ground must be over-excavated and replaced with clean gravel. Homebuilders often choose not to include a basement, or to protect the basement walls from excess moisture by surrounding them with a layer of gravel. A fine-grained clay-filled soil with a high plasticity index may require considerable treatment, especially if used in a moist location.

Building and Designing

If you are planning to build a new home, you should take full advantage of the opportunity to design a custom-built home that meets your needs and includes all the amenities you want. Create a professional-quality kitchen for the "gourmet cook" in the family, include space for a home office, and place the master suite at the opposite end of the house from the kids. Enjoy designing your dream home!

This may be the biggest project of your lifetime. Be certain to select a team of highly qualified professionals to work with you. Your home team should consist of a real estate salesperson, an architect, a builder, and a lender. Your "Dream Team" will assure that all the legal requirements are met as your dream home is being built. Interview each member of your team and ask for references, in order to be confident you are hiring the best people for the job. You will be working closely with these professionals for many months, so choose your team carefully.

Building Considerations

Are you planning to build your dream home? Once you are pre-approved for a loan and have found a professional real estate agent you trust, you are ready to start looking for the perfect lot.

Compare the qualities of several target neighborhoods by looking at schools, shopping, recreation and zoning. Make sure that the zoning regulations allow you to build the size and height of the home you want. Find out if there are use restrictions that would prevent you from developing your property as you intend. A visit to the local planning department will clarify your options for building.

Consider what type of home would best suit your lifestyle. Create a checklist to itemize the "must-have" interior and exterior features of a house that you feel are absolute requirements. Make notations about yard size, paint, roof and window conditions for the exterior, and floor plan, room quality and condition of the appliances for the interior. Bring your lists to your real estate agent. Together you can look over the currently available properties that correspond to your needs.

Building With Help From Brokers

Did you know that, for no additional cost, you can be represented by a real estate broker in conjunction with purchasing a home from a builder? Homebuilders are accustomed to working with real estate brokers and often their commission is already covered in their marketing and promotion costs. A broker can provide objectivity and guidance in designing your home and help you select amenities that will lead to a more advantageous resale. He or she can help coordinate the sale of your present home and the closing of the new one. Many brokers offer guaranteed home sale programs so that when your new home is finished, the real estate company will buy your previous home at a pre-agreed price to prevent you from owning two homes at one time; and can usually arrange the occupancy agreeable to all parties. Take advantage of using your real estate broker in conjunction with building your new home at no additional cost.

Buying New Or Adding On

Homeowners should consider several questions before making the choice between adding on to an existing home or moving up in the market to a bigger house. How much money do you have available for remodeling your current house? How much additional space do you require? Is there room to expand on the ground level or will the foundation of your present home support a second floor? What will the local zoning and building ordinances permit? How much equity do you have in the property? Are there affordable properties for sale that would satisfy your housing needs?

Consider your neighborhood--it makes more sense to add on to a smaller house than to over-improve the largest home in the area. Your decision should ultimately be based on your individual needs, the extent of the work involved and which features will add the most value. According to industry experts, buyers are always excited by state-of-the art kitchens and bathrooms.

Buying New or Buying Old

New homes typically have a higher sales price than comparable existing homes, and buyers are usually willing to spend more on a new home because of lower maintenance costs. Builders' warranties on new homes, when combined with a new roof, appliances, and major systems, usually make major repairs unnecessary and help to counter a slower initial rate of appreciation.

Census Bureau Housing Surveys suggests that operating costs are lowest for brand new homes and slightly higher for relatively new existing homes. Operating costs per square foot of living space are consistently higher for progressively older existing homes. Utility costs represent the largest factor in operating costs. Energy consumption per square foot depends on the size of the home, the insulation and quality of the windows, air leakage and the efficiency of the furnace.

New homes require fewer expenditures for routine maintenance. The cost of maintenance first increases with age, then declines, so you will generally spend less maintaining a home built before 1960 than for a home built between 1970 and 1975.

Buying Property to Build

The ideal piece of land cannot be purchased without due diligence. Say you notice a lot for sale in a suburban area that looks like a perfect place to build your dream home. Buying undeveloped land can provide an opportunity to build a house that will meet your needs, but you will need certain information before you sign on the dotted line.

Most suburban areas have zoning regulations which govern the type of structure that can be erected, the dimensions, and even the material used on the exterior. Historic preservation groups work with builders in many areas to ensure that any new construction fits in with the existing buildings. If you want to build out of the city limits, check the availability of public utility services and the cost of bringing those services to the site. Local planning and zoning boards can provide you with information about proposed development that could change your quiet country lane into a busy street.

It is a good idea to consult an architect and a zoning expert to confirm that your vision will work on the property you have selected.

From the Ground Up

Buying land is different from buying a home, because you must resolve issues relative to land use restrictions, utilities, access and easements before building. When you locate land that seems right for your house, visit the local planning department before making an offer.

Ask whether city sewer, water and electricity are available. If not, you will need to calculate the expenses of installing a well and testing the soil for a septic system. The land will be zoned for residential, business, or agricultural purposes. Does the zoning permit you to build the house you want? Are there easements on the lot that will limit where you can build or how you can access the property? Ask about the long-range plans for use of the surrounding land. The land will be more attractive if the city intends to build a park or new school nearby. But if a six-lane highway or a waste treatment facility are in the city's future plans, you may decide to look elsewhere for a place to build your dream home.

How Easements Affect Your Land

It is extremely important to discover whether there are easements on undeveloped land you are thinking about buying. An easement is the legal right to use another person's land for a specific, acknowledged purpose. Easements can significantly affect your development and use of the property.

A typical easement might permit the use of a dirt fire road that cuts through both the neighbor's property and your land. The road provides access to both properties, and your neighbor has to drive through yours to get to his. The house you build has to be situated ten to fifteen feet away from this access road. If the road cuts through the middle of the lot, you might have difficulty finding room for the house you want to build.

Consult with your real estate agent, an attorney or a title researcher for accurate information about the easements. When making an offer on undeveloped land with an easement issue, be sure to include a contingency that you must approve of any existing easements, or the offer is null and void.

Lot Location

If you are buying land on which to build, you may be eager to get started. But before you leap into buying land, remember that location is the one essential element you won't be able to change. You will never regret taking the time to fully consider the setting for your home.

Make a list of the must-have features that will exist on your ideal piece of land. Do you require a lakefront property or a spectacular view? If privacy is high on your list, you may want to look for land that is heavily wooded, or purchase secluded acreage in a rural setting. Decide on the minimum size lot that will work for the setting of your home. Are you willing to build on a slope or a hillside? Knowing your requirements will help your real estate agent save you time by eliminating unsuitable properties.

Select two or three of your favorite New Albany, Columbus or Central Ohio neighborhoods and ask your agent to concentrate the search for land in those places. If you are building in an area you are not familiar with, drive or take walks around the neighborhood and talk to people who live there.

New Homes

Buying a house that is under construction gives you the opportunity to customize your new home by adding special features to the basic home. When deciding on additional features, consider how they will affect the re-sale value of the home and whether these additions will over-improve your home.

Money spent to improve and modernize kitchens and bathrooms is almost always a good investment. Granite and corian counter tops, side-by-side refrigerators, tile flooring and whirlpool tubs are popular upgrades. If the builder's standard flooring for the living room, dining room or foyer is linoleum, changing to hardwood or tile will increase the resale value of the home. And even if you don't enjoy sitting around a roaring fireplace, the next owner may want one. If you plan to finish the basement later, you may want to "rough-in" the plumbing for a bath during the original construction. You should consider your own enjoyment--and what will increase the value of your home when you sell.

Testing the Soil

Are you building a custom-designed home on hand picked acreage? An essential step is testing the soil, which will determine the composition of the ground that must provide a stable foundation for your new home.

The soil could have a combination of various conditions and characteristics. It might be fine, silt-laden soil that collapses when it absorbs excessive water, or soil with a high clay content that sucks up water and then expands under a building, causing it to buckle or shift. Such soil is easy to excavate but unstable to build on. It must be replaced in compacted layers until it achieves suitable density to provide a stable foundation for the house.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, your land might sit on a layer of hard rock, which is wonderfully stable, but extremely hard to penetrate. Excavation costs will be higher if your builder has to bring in heavy equipment to dig out the rock. A professional soil report will help your builder determine the best approach to engineering your site.

The Zoning Variance

When you are selecting land on which to build your new home, be certain to investigate the zoning for that particular area. You might fall in love with rural acreage that just happens to be zoned for agricultural or recreational purposes. Since zoning uses are not interchangeable, you would need to apply for a variance in order to build a single-family residential dwelling on the land. This can be a challenging process!

Getting approval to have the zoning changed on property requires that you first give public notice, and then request approval for a variance from the government agencies that supervise enforcement of the zoning plan. You might encounter resistance from neighbors or various local interest groups who oppose the zoning changes that would allow you to build your dream home. Your local planning department can tell you how a particular property is zoned and explain what you need to do to get a variance. Your real estate agent may be able to refer you to a local land use attorney who can guide you through the process.

What About the Water

If you are considering buying acreage, your real estate agent will probably supply you with basic information about the soil quality, zoning and property boundaries. Whether you intend to build a vacation home or a working horse ranch, you'll also need to know about the water quality and quantity.

If the land is not in an area where water is supplied and tested by a municipal water system, you will need to drill a well for drinking water even if the land has surface sources that provide water for irrigation. Instead of paying monthly water bills, you'll be investing a substantial sum to drill the well and maintain it over time. Contact the county water department to determine how many gallons per minute you and your family (or agricultural business) will require. Talk to the neighbors to find out how long it actually takes to obtain permits to drill for water in that area, and get estimates from local companies on drilling costs.

With a little detective work and help from your agent you can discover any local problems with contamination of the water supply due to toxic substances. Surface waters such as streams, ponds or lakes may be considered public property, and may require you to obtain a water use permit from the state in order to dam a creek or pump water from a supply that sits on your land.