For those who have their eyes on one of the recently restored house or a fixer upper in the neighborhood, here are some things to keep in mind:
- As a buyer the real estate agent is not your friend! Realtors are sales people working for the seller not the buyer. They are motivated to get the highest price possible to maximize their commissions. I'm not saying that realtors are not useful, they can provide great information regarding a property, but keep in mind that they are trying to sell you a house and their interests lies with the seller not the buyer.
- Do your homework! There is no excuse to not be well informed about a neighborhood or a property. There are a number of on line services that can provide basic information about a property. Services like Zillow or Realtor.com are good starting points. You can also research property records through the county's tax appraisal web site. For San Antonio properties you can go to http://www.bcad.org/ for the Bexar County Appraisal web site to search for property information by owner, address or account number or DBA.
- Older houses present a unique set of issues that need to be carefully assessed. If you're interested in a fixer upper then you need to understand that you will be assuming all of the risk and costs associated in buying/fixing up a distressed property. If you're buying a restored or rehabbed house then always get a house inspection done! Never take the word of the realtor or the contractor on the condition of an older house no matter how good the finish may look on the surface. A house inspection prior to finalizing a sale should assess the major structural and functional systems of a house. Structural assessments should always include the foundation especially if the house is built on a pier and beam foundation which is typical of older houses. The drainage around an older house should be assessed along with the foundation. Often times a foundation will fail because of poor drainage that allows water to seep underneath a house. The roof should always be checked for leaks, the age of the roof and assess the integrity of the rafter and trusses. The inspections should also include an assessment of the attic insulation. Make sure it is up to code!
- Get a survey done. While a survey is always done as part of the closing on a property make sure you that you review the survey before you sign off on the a property. This is especially critical in an older neighborhood where property lines make become compromised by encroaching fence lines or in some cases houses that have shifted onto the neighbors property line.
- Assessment of the functional systems such electrical, plumbing and HVAC in an older house is a must. Ideally it is optimal to upgrade these systems in older houses as often times the wiring and plumbing is outdated and/or does not meet current code. Ask if permits were pulled for any of construction work done on the house. By code any work done on electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems should be performed by a licensed individual or company. As a consumer you have the right to know if the quality of the work performed met current standards and codes. A permit ensures that any work performed on house systems meets code and requires an inspection by the city for approval. In San Antonio you can check the city's Planning and Development website to research if permits were pulled for any property undergoing construction. Go to http://www.sanantonio.gov/dsd/index.asp to access permit information.
The bottom line: Be prudent, do your homework and ask lots of questions!