Vast amount of information can be gathered from online research and property listing websites. A popular website to use is Redfin.com, but their area coverage is limited and therefore Zillow.com can be used as an alternative. Trulia.com is most accurate for distinguishing single house and condominiums in legal terms. When you become interested on a house, search for the house from all three listing websites because one can provide information that is not mentioned in another. These websites source information from MLS.com, which is the official website for listing new house/property for sale.
If you open up Zillow.com, type in your current zip code, and click on a random house. Other than self-explanatory information, here is notable information (other than self-explanatory information) from a typical house listing:
- Basement and garage space are not included to total area (usually in sq. ft.) of a house
- Total monthly fees (usually HOA + Mellos Roos) – Redfin.com seems more accurate in terms of reporting Mellos Roos.
- Use search filtering options to sort out bank-owned and short sales houses.
- Price history reveals official escrow activities of the house. If there are too many buyers backing out during the escrow (i.e. listing becoming “contingent” or “pending” and later becoming “canceled” and re-enters listing), it is a red flag because it could mean a number of things such as the owner is not motivated to sell or there is a problem with a house.
- Houses built in 1980s can have PVC pipes that are known to be problematic. Fixing/Replacing water and sewer pipes can cost thousands of dollars.
- Look for gas tank buried in the property. An old house (built 1980 or less) may have a gas tank buried underground that is no longer operable.
- Houses built before 1978 can have lead in paint.
- Price trend – It is said that house value never decreased for last 15 years in Silicon Valley. What is the price trend of the neighborhood?
- In east coast, being in a flood area can lead to huge amount of insurance premium.
- Direction of the house – Determined by looking at Google map or street view. (further description in below)
What do you mean by “Direction of the house”? Doesn’t a house face all directions?
“Direction of the house” usually refers to direction of the area that you will spend most of your time in a house, which is usually the family room. That is usually opposite to entrance/garage door. Except for really hot areas such as Texas and Nevada, south facing is preferred because of ample amount of indirect sunlight received. This not only Feng Shui; it is scientific because USA is located at northern hemisphere. East facing houses tend to receive direct sunlight that coincides with human biorhythm so it is second best. North facing houses tend to be cold and dark. West facing houses tend to receive direct sunlight during afternoon and evening.
Look up the house address in Google Map and Street View and find out if there are any hazardous artifacts nearby the property such as high electricity power lines and crowded roads. It is known to be unsafe to live close to a high electricity line, although people have different opinions on how far a house should be from a high electricity line to be considered safe.