Here at Solutions, we get asked lots of questions by clients in their search for their dream home. Because of Equal Housing Laws, there are some we’re prevented by law from answering, but there are a number of answers we can find out or sources we can point you towards to look up the info you seek.
Below are a few common questions. Please let us know if you have any more we can help answer.
Is this property near a train, highway or flight path?
Our local airport, the Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport is served by Delta, American Airlines, United Airlines and USAirways. If you have questions about flight paths over your dream house you can contact the airport directly.
Charlottesville is also a station stop for Amtrak and several freight trains. You can go to Google Earth to see exactly where the lines run through town and the countryside.
The same goes for local highways – the most used are Rt. 250, Rt. 64 and Rt. 29.
You can also find out it you’re close to any emergency response stations that will wake you with sirens in the dead of night.
Is this property in a flood zone?
In the Charlottesville area there are many ponds, lakes and creeks that crisscross the landscape. Just because a house isn’t on the water, doesn’t mean the property is flood free. Be sure to check with the city and local county offices for survey information AND ask the neighbors.
The listing agent also should have information available if the current owner has flood insurance and why. If flood insurance is required, then be sure to get several estimates from insurance companies.
Snow and ice-related flooding can also happen above and beyond a typical rainfall. It is worth it to ask when bad storms have come through an area and which ones were most affected.
Which neighborhoods are more residential vs. industrial or light business?
Charlottesville is home to the University of Virginia, which has spread out in recent years to take up more land in the adjoining neighborhoods. If you’re not a fan of bike traffic, late night parties and football games, you may want to consider neighborhoods that are a bit further away.
A few areas are considered light industrial and your Solutions agent can point those out when you take a city or county driving tour.
As we’ve discussed in another recent blog, it’s a great idea to also do your own research. Visit the area on nights a few times a week to get a feel of the neighborhood and to see if there’s any late night activity that you might otherwise not know about. Look for litter around the street and talk to the neighbors.
Another great tip is to drive through the area at rush hour times so that you know what the traffic is like getting on to and off from the main roads. This will help you gauge how much time you need to get to work. And it will also help you figure out if the area has a lot of noise pollution.
If you can, try to drive through when it’s raining. Although the weather around here is anything but predictable, this will give you an idea of which areas flood more quickly and often than others. Charlottesville does have some low-lying spots that do flood easily, so it’s a good idea to check that out yourself.
To find out what construction is going on in the various neighborhoods you can review six months of minutes from the city council/county commission to see what is going on around the property you like.
What does “built to code” mean?
You can contact your local city or county Building Department to ask them for code specifics, but they don’t tend to hold onto building permits for more than three years.
Ask your Solutions agent if you can get the contact info for the builder so you can ask them direct questions about a specific house. There’s a great deal of new construction going on in our area, so information is readily available if you have questions. The Better Business Bureau is also a good source for information on a specific builder.
A home inspector is also a good resource if you have any questions.
What is PMI (Private Mortgage Insurance)?
When putting down money for a home purchase, if you have less than 20% of the cost to give them, you can still buy the house, but they tack on an extra monthly fee for “insurance” against you being unable to keep paying at some point. Once you’ve got your loan balance down to 80% of the value of the house (20% in), you don’t need to pay this fee any longer since you’ve proven that you are “solid” enough in saving/paying them money.
Is this property in a HOA or Historic District?
Many buyers don’t want to be restricted by HOA by-laws or monthly fees, while some prefer to have someone else take care of the lawn, trash, snow removal and outside maintenance.
For HOA/COAs, ask for financial info, six months of board minutes and the by-laws. You’re looking for major issues, and major upcoming expenses. You also want to see that the boards have sufficient reserves to match the repair schedule. They should have an engineering report showing the life of most items. This should match up with the reserves or a big assessment is coming.
Architectural Review Boards also come into play in Historic Districts, of which this area has quite a few.
What are the local school district ratings?
You can contact the schools directly to speak with the principals – your Solutions agent can send you the links. Great Schools is also a good resource – but nothing takes the place of visiting the school itself and taking a tour. When you look at homes on our site, we reference Great Schools for your convenience.
What are the local crime rates?
This is a great question and one that agents have to be very careful about answering. As REALTOR’s we can not steer clients to or from an area. The best information is available when your Solutions agent provides you with the link to the local police departments. Get the information, directly from the source.
Is the house on a well, septic system or public water?
This information is typically in the listing info, but your Solutions agent will also be able to find out for you. Also there are benefits of each system that your agent can explain to you.
Should I get title insurance?
This is also a good question for a closing attorney or company – your Solutions agents can provide you with referrals. Be sure to read everything carefully. Sometimes deeds can have names left off, and very serious mistakes can make it to closing. Ideally everything is correct, but there are times when it’s not.
Is this house a flip?
If the home is a flip, ask for the permits… really, really important.
Is there good access to the Internet?
With so much of our lives being on the Internet including work, having a good Internet Provider is critical for many people. Not all listing show this information, so your buyers agent will be able to get this for you.
How has the market performed in this area over the past year? Past 3?
Your Solutions agent can easily pull a year over year analysis for the market you’re interested in to see how it has held up over the years.
What is the foreclosure rate for this market area?
Also easy to pull. This is a pretty good market indicator as well. If the rate is high, this means the market is undergoing a significant change. Coupled with the market data above, this gives you a good picture of where your market is headed for better or worse.
“Will this house pass for FHA financing?”
FHA loans are super popular with some first-time buyers because of the very low down-payment requirement of 3.5%. They’re not without their hiccups though. If your house was built before 1978 and there is any visible peeling paint, this is a potential holdup. FHA does not like lead paint, and will likely need it remediated before the transaction can continue. Any damages can also be a pain, as FHA does not usually guarantee loans on properties that are in fixer-upper condition.