3 Red Flags Not to Overlook When Shopping for a Home

When you’re buying a home, it’s really important to keep a level head. It’s easy to fall in love with a property and decide that it must be yours, since a home is an emotional purchase. After all, you’ll be setting down roots there, and it will become your place.

But you want to find the right property that’s not going to cause you headaches for years to come. So be sure to watch out for these three red flags that could be a sign that buying the house will leave you full of regrets.

1. A bad location

There’s one feature of a house you absolutely cannot change: its location. That’s why a bad location is one red flag that suggests you absolutely need to walk away.

No matter how perfect the property seems in terms of looks and size, you’ll regret it every day if you buy a place where you have a bad commute or bad neighbors. No kitchen is large enough and no bathroom is spa-like enough to make up for having to sit in stressful traffic for hours just to get to work or see your loved ones. You also don’t want to put up with a bunch of partying college students next door.

To make sure you don’t end up regretting your house purchase, drive from the property to work, school, and other places you go frequently. Do it at the times of day when you’d normally be traveling so you can make sure there’s nothing unexpected like a school bus that stops at every other house — and check Google maps to see typical drive times and routes and make sure they’re pleasant.

Likewise, visit the property at random times to make sure there’s no loud disturbances, loose dogs running around, or other issues that could prevent you from enjoying the place.

More: Check out our picks for the best mortgage lenders

2. Liens on the property

Liens are claims filed against the property because of debts of the owner. A homeowner could end up with liens if they didn’t pay their mortgage and got foreclosed on. A homeowner could also have a lien on the property due to unpaid court judgments, unpaid child support, tax debt, or homeowners association (HOA) fines.

You usually cannot buy a property with liens unless they’re removed because the buyer can’t give you clean title (a 100% ownership claim to the house). Mortgage lenders won’t let you close on a house with liens. And the debt would come with the property in most cases, even if you decided to pay cash for the home.

You can ask a title company to perform a lien search for you, which would have to happen before you closed on the home anyway. You can also check public records to see what claims are there. Check with your local county to do a records search. If there are liens, ask the buyer when and how they’ll come off.

If you’re buying a house with liens, that could also mean the property owner was having financial problems and may not have maintained the home well. So even if they have a plan to pay back the debt and get the liens released, you still may want to consider whether moving forward with the purchase is a good idea.

3. HOA rules that are too restrictive

Restrictive HOA rules are another major red flag. Homeowners associations have some benefits — they can help maintain property values and provide amenities for residents. But if you want to do whatever you want with your home, you need to make sure that HOA rules won’t prevent it.

Some neighborhoods are much stricter than others. My neighborhood, for example, limits you to two yard decorations for which you need pre-approval. Plus, you can’t make any changes at all to a home (including changing your doorbell) without permission from an architectural review committee. If you couldn’t live with conditions like this, don’t buy in an HOA home or you’ll end

up facing fines and a lot of hassle.

The sellers should provide a copy of HOA rules, so be sure to read them carefully. You can usually also call the HOA and ask questions about any specific conditions you’re concerned about.

The good news is, these are easy red flags to spot — and if you do identify them, you’ll know that the house you’re considering may not be right for you. There are plenty of other properties out there, and you’ll eventually find your perfect spot.

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