When you have specialized questions about buying real estate, sometimes the best answer your Realtor can give you is the name or website of the appropriate authority. We call this being “the source of the source” and not only does it help to keep Realtors out of trouble, but it ensures that you are getting the best possible answer. Here are some of the best resources to help answer a variety of your questions.
Neighborhood Safety Information
Realtors are frequently asked the question, “Is this a safe neighborhood?” Realtors can certainly provide you with information regarding specific crimes that they know about, but they are not allowed nor qualified to label a neighborhood safe or unsafe. If you have safety concerns about a neighborhood, you should contact the local police department to discuss your concerns.
Year-Round vs. Seasonal Neighbors
Cape Cod buyers frequently wonder if the neighborhood they’re looking at consists of more year-round or seasonal homes. If your Realtor doesn’t know the answer, visit the town’s Assessor’s Online Database, which every Cape Cod town has. Check the “field card” for the neighboring homes and look for the mailing address of the homeowner. If it’s an off-Cape address, there’s a good chance that the home is used seasonally or on an otherwise part-time basis.
Home Sales History
Using tools such as Zillow, it’s easier than ever for buyers to look up the sales history of a home. Some history is also generally listed on the property’s field card referenced above. If you want to dig deeper, anyone can access recorded property information on the Barnstable Registry of Deeds website (https://www.barnstabledeeds.org/). Here you can follow the chain of ownership of a property, including mortgage records, liens placed on the property, and other relevant and legally-binding information about the property that could impact your interest. Your Realtor may very well review this on his/her own, and your attorney will certainly do this as part of the title search.
If you have questions about improvements that have been performed at the house, you should have your Realtor ask the seller’s Realtor for a list with dates. Some sellers have excellent records of all improvement initiated by them. For more complete data, you should pay a visit to the Building Department and Board of Health at Town Hall, and ask to see the file for the property. Whatever information they have is public and you are entitled to review the complete file. If improvements were properly permitted, you should find information about them in the Building Department records. If you are looking for information pertaining to the septic system, the Board of Health can also be useful. Some towns (such as Yarmouth) have excellent online records, saving you a trip to Town Hall. Others might require an in-person visit.
While your Realtor might do this for you, remember that it is YOU buying the house, and you might want to see for yourself all information available at Town Hall.
Allowable Uses and Improvements
If you are looking at a home and wondering if you can add a garage, an addition, or use the property to operate a home business, you need to consult the Town’s Zoning By-Laws. These answers are generally clearly specified in the By-Laws and most town’s have the Zoning By-Laws right on their website. After reading the pertinent sections, you should also meet with the Town Planner to be sure you are interpreting the laws correctly. Else, you could make a costly mistake.
Getting a Mortgage
Unless you are paying cash, you will likely be taking out a mortgage to pay for your home. Realtors are frequently asked which mortgage is best for buyers, and they are in no position to answer that question. Only a qualified mortgage professional should be answering that question. Mortgages are available through most banks, also called “direct lenders” because they are generally lending their own money. Or alternatively, you could contact a mortgage company – a broker that has access to many different lenders, and hence, tends to offer a wider range of programs. If you have not already chosen a bank or mortgage broker, check with your Realtor for recommendations and be sure to contact at least one bank and one mortgage broker to see which one has the best programs for your particular situation.
Other Online Resources
Here are some other online resources that might prove useful when buying a home on the Cape.
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