Shopping for a new home is a process that requires a lot of research and due diligence. Much of the pertinent information can be easily found through obvious sources such as Zillow and other documents that your real estate agent will gather and help you decipher.
But there are other less obvious resources that buyers should consider using to research any issues or limitations a property or area may pose. Let’s go over some of the “nonobvious” resources that can make a difference for Connecticut homebuyers.
1. Municipal planning and zoning departments
Each municipality’s planning department plays a crucial role in establishing and enforcing codes and regulations that will have an impact on property values, the character of neighborhoods, and your overall living experience.
For instance, the residential area to which you are looking to move may be situated near a commercial or industrial zone that would allow future development. This development could produce issues ranging from traffic to noise to environmental hazards depending on what businesses are permitted.
Unfortunately, there are many examples that can be found of homebuyers realizing that their quality of life is impacted by surrounding businesses or environmental issues, everything from the smell to sound to sight. A property can also include environmental concerns and right-of-ways that allow power companies to perform maintenance work on power lines and trees.
These issues are often common in newly built subdivisions, where specific quality-of-life issues are less likely to have been previously detected and addressed.
It is recommended that a homebuyer visit the property at both daytime and nighttime because some issues may only be noticeable at certain times of day. For example, the loud sound of idling delivery trucks at a nearby business may only be noticeable at certain times.
Depending on the town you are in, there may or may not be an ordinance in place to regulate any disturbance to residential areas. If no ordinance is in place, there is no guarantee that the local government would provide any reprieve.
Each town also has its own set of zoning codes for residential zones. It is worth familiarizing yourself with the codes that would apply to your property, as they may affect your ability to make future additions and changes to your home.
For example, changes like adding a backyard shed or detached garage would be likely subject to approval by the town’s zoning enforcement body. The members of this body may be elected and their opinions on applications can vary. If you have a specific home improvement change in mind, it may be worth researching how the zoning rules have been applied to similar applications.
2. Neighborhood and homeowners associations
In addition to complying with local planning and zoning regulations, new homeowners may need to conform to rules established by the local homeowners association.
There may be rules that would prohibit or limit your ability to make aesthetic changes, which can range from changing the color of your front door to adding landscaping to putting up fencing.
HOAs also typically provide services to members and require a monthly fee. Your realtor should be able to walk you through these additional benefits and fees.
3. Crime data and online court records
Safety is on the front of every homebuyer’s mind, and fortunately there are numerous resources at our disposable to research any safety concerns for a particular area.
User-friendly websites and apps like Spotcrime.com and Life360 can provide a crime map that pinpoints crimes and incidents to which police have responded. Sexual offender search services like Family Watchdog allow you to search for registered sex offender residing in your area.
There are also larger crime databases that offer a broader view of crime rates for individual states and towns. The Federal Bureau of Investigation Crime Data Explorer compiles crime reports from all over the country, allowing you to find crime data for your state or your city. ‘
You can contact the local police department to request crime data and reports that will give you a glimpse of year-over-year crime trends and the volume of specific crime (theft, sexual assault, murder, etc).
When it comes to civil matters, the state of Connecticut’s judicial system allows the public to easily look up information about prior and pending court cases online. This resource can come in handy to find any past foreclosures and evictions related to a property.
4. Online community groups
Sometimes the best source of information is right next door — your neighbors (or potential neighbors in this case).
These days, just about every town has at least one community Facebook group where residents can post thoughts and questions about local happenings. Engaging with current homeowners can provide valuable insights into neighborhood dynamics, local events, and the overall community vibe.
Tap into these forums by searching past posts, or, if you have specific questions, post it yourself. Hearing from locals is likely to give you a different perspective than what your realtor may share.
5. Local news coverage and archives
Local news coverage can be a great resource for researching the dynamics and history of a town — everything from the local government to traditions and events. You can look up recent coverage or archived stories online or at local library.
You can learn about the good, the bad, and the ugly in the town, including why people enjoy living there and noteworthy issues and complaints that have been raised in the past — anything from tax hikes to environmental issues to traffic and crime.
For example, the Greenwich Time recently reported on residents in Greenwich and Stamford complaining about noise coming from I-95 and what the state is doing to address it. Keeping up with the local news will only make you more informed as a homebuyer.
As you embark on the exciting journey of buying a home, it’s wise to leave no stone unturned. You can make a more confident choice in where you choose to live by going beyond the conventional resources.
If you are purchasing a home in the lower Fairfield area of Connecticut and you need an attorney for your closing, reach out to Pederson Real Estate Law for a free consultation. Attorney Charlene Pederson has been guiding clients through real estate closing for more than 25 years.