Shopping for a Home? Case the Joint Like a Burglar

burglar-house

So you’ve got the whole house-hunting routine down, and you run your must-have home features on a loop in your head like a Spotify playlist. You’ve become a pro at scoping out closet space, bedroom sizes, and whether there’s adequate wall space to mount the big-screen HDTV you plan to buy after the move.

But here’s something you almost certainly have not thought to evaluate: Just as you size up whether a home fits your needs, how might burglars size it up to see if it fits theirs? Is your new abode safe as a fortress, or does it stand out as a prime target for intruders?

Before you put in an offer for a new home, consider these potential problem areas—and whether you can fix them on the cheap!

Shrouded in shrubbery

Extensive and elaborate landscaping can add appeal to any yard. But bushes placed in front of windows could provide all-too-much shelter from watchful neighbors or passers-by—isolating your home and making it a target for bad guys, says Steve Albrecht, a San Diego–based national expert on crime and violence prevention.

Landscaping that blocks a door or acts as a wall between properties also provides hiding spots for criminals. Scary!

Your security solution: You don’t have to spend a fortune ripping out a bunch of bushes, but you might need some elbow grease.

“Landscaping should be kept trimmed so that neighbors—or patrol cars—can see completely around the front side of your house,” Albrecht says.

A visible security system panel

Of course, having a security system is a popular and effective deterrent for home break-ins. And while it’s helpful to have stickers and placards that announce a property is protected, a poorly placed panel can actually undermine your security goals, saysRobert Siciliano, home security expert with BestHomeSecurityCompanys.com.

“If your alarm’s control panel is visible through glass to someone loitering outside, a burglar can get an idea of how to defeat it,” Siciliano says.

The best spot for a security panel is close to where you typically exit and enter a home—but not in front of a window.

Your security solution: Negotiate to have it relocated to a more secure, less conspicuous area. “In a nearby coat closet or on a wall not visible from a foyer or door window are good choices,” Siciliano says.

Let there be light, but not too much

A dark doorway lets crooks stroll inconspicuously up to your door and attempt to get in. But an entryway that’s too brightly lit provides illumination for burglars to see what they’re doing, so they don’t need a flashlight to work, says Tim Krebs, corporate communications manager for national home security company Protect America.

Your security solution: Make sure a home has motion-sensing exterior lights that switch on as a visitor—wanted or unwanted—approaches the house, porch, or side windows.

“A monitor sensor light means a crook has to guess correctly if someone is home or not and may be calling the police,” Krebs says.

Dimly lit yards are also problematic (no big surprise), because they similarly allow a miscreant to stalk around unnoticed.

“We suggest double-cone yard lights be placed on the corners of the home,” Krebs says. “These do a great job of illuminating the exterior of the house.”

Fences make great neighbors for burglars

High fences are dramatic and stately but also alluring for a wrongdoer. That privacy you want? Potential criminals want it even more.

“Burglars see a very tall fence or stone wall as an opportunity to work in private,” Krebs says. “Any fence is actually a welcome sight.”

Your security solution: Consider installing a security system or reinforced back/patio doors if the backyard is secluded.

Don’t forget the garage

Doors that lead from the garage are helpful when the weather is frightful or you’ve got a lot of groceries to haul in. But it’s also a security risk if you aren’t vigilant, Siciliano says.

“Just because it’s on the inside of the house doesn’t mean it should be left open for convenience,” he says. “That door may be the last line of defense in the event a crook gets into your garage.”

Your security solution: Make sure all doors with access to the outside have a deadbolt and are part of your home security system. 

Garage-door windows should always be covered to prevent someone from peering in and being tempted by pricey gadgets and tools, your car, an expensive bike, or other valuables.

Before getting your heart set on a new home, Siciliano suggests a full security inspection. Much like a home inspection can uncover flaws in the roof, structure, or plumbing, an inspection by a home security company or expert can help identify all sorts of ways a home might catch a malefactor’s eye.

5 Questions to Ask Before You Buy a Home in a Hurricane Zone

hurricane-flood

As Hurricane Patricia, the strongest storm in recorded history, barrels toward southwestern Mexico and the resort town of Puerto Vallarta, it’s yet another reminder that although coastal living can be awfully appealing, it comes with considerable risks.

Still, the unique culture of beach towns has an almost magical appeal. So when you weigh that against the risk of hurricane damage, how can you decide whether it’s worth it? Here are some questions to ask to help you figure that out:

1. How much will insurance cost?

Regardless of whether a hurricane hits, you’ll need to pay for hurricane insurance. And rates really do run the gamut: In 2012, Florida had the highest average premiums, $2,084 per year, while Idaho had the lowest, $538, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III). So before you even start house hunting, meet with an insurance agent. It might feel like you’re doing things backward, but an insurance agent can give you a rough estimate of what you can expect to pay each year.

2. Should I buy on the beach, or a few blocks in?

Where you decide to buy can make a difference in your premiums and risk, even if you choose a property just a few miles inland. It all comes down to flood hazard areas defined by the National Flood Insurance Program’s Flood Insurance Rate Map. The highest risk areas are marked as Special Flood Hazard Areas and have at least a 1 in 4 chance of flooding during a 30-year mortgage.

And remember, you don’t have to be near the water to be in a flood hazard area, as communities in central Texas and Oklahoma learned this spring. So when you’re house hunting, consider where each house falls on the map, but also check its flood-zone designation.

3. What type of house should I get?

The type of house you buy can also make a difference, because some are designed specifically to withstand hurricanes. The home may have a dome shape that reduces wind damage, for example, or rest on stilts to escape flooding. These homes may also get a better rating from your insurance provider (translation: lower payments).

So make sure to ask your agent to show you any homes specifically designed to battle the wind and water—or if you’d rather have a traditional house, hire a good inspector to give you a realistic view of the building’s hurricane resistance before you make an offer.

“If a house is built to code and to withstand a strong storm or hurricane, it can help lower insurance costs,” says Jeanne Salvatore, chief communications officer for the III. If the home isn’t up to code, it may make sense to steer clear or bring in a contractor for some improvements, but be sure to crunch the numbers before you commit. If the insurance savings aren’t bigger than the cost to remodel, it’s probably not worth it.

4. If damage does happen, what’s my deductible?

“Hurricanes are covered in a homeowners policy, no matter where you live,” saysLoretta Worters, vice president of communication for III. That makes sense, after all, since hurricanes are still basically wind and rain—just more of it. But policies differ on your financial responsibility if you have to file a hurricane-related claim.

Most insurance companies tack on a hurricane deductible for homeowners in potential danger zones. And unlike regular homeowners insurance, you’ll have to pay this additional deductible if you file a claim.

“It is expressed as a percentage of the amount of insurance you have on the house, generally 2% to 5%,” says Salvatore.

Bottom line: You may not be able to get out of a hurricane deductible altogether, but you can save some cash by shopping around. The cost can vary among insurance companies, so get at least three estimates before you decide on a carrier.

5. Do I need flood insurance, too?

Regular homeowners insurance isn’t all you need if you live in a coastal region. Typically, homeowners insurance covers damage related to the high-powered winds of hurricanes and tropical storms. But it does not cover the other major problem: flooding.

To keep yourself protected, you’ll need a flood policy. Issued by the National Flood Insurance Program, a policy will cover the damage to your property if the heavy rains or toppled levees causes flooding in your home. Ask your insurance agent to go over the policy carefully and explain any concepts you don’t understand. If you’re not fully covered by flood, you may regret it later.

Building a New Home? Add These Upgrades While They’re Cheap (and Easy)

radiant heating system

If you’ve decided to build your home from the ground up, determining which extra features are worth adding—and which are equivalent to flushing stacks of hundreds down the toilet—can be tough. And while it’s OK to put off some decisions, certain additions are prohibitively costly to retrofit. You’re dreaming of radiant heating, you say? It’s way better to install now than sacrifice thousands of dollars later.

Not sure what’s a must-do right now? Here are some of the easiest things to add to a new home that will save you a few migraines down the road.

Cable conduits

In today’s increasingly connected world, future-proofing your home for whatever innovations come next out of Silicon Valley is essential. Luckily, building from scratch allows you to customize your setup to your needs, both now and later.

Yes, smart home features are increasingly going wireless, but that doesn’t mean you should skip running cable conduits throughout the house—especially if you see a big home theater or full-home sound system in your future, both of which work best plugged in directly. Adding an extensive system of cable conduits can make hooking up entertainment much simpler.

Plus, your own hard-wired system amounts to “an eavesdropping-proof local network,” says Ken Streiff, a Minnesota contractor and builder with 20 years of industry experience.

Worst-case scenario? You don’t use it, opting for all-wireless instead—but at least it’s there and it’s a feature buyers will appreciate as well.

Radiant heating

As we indicated earlier, radiant heating, typically integrated into the floor, is energy-efficient but not remotely cheap to install. You can expect to pay at least $6 per foot for your system in new construction. Adding it later? Watch that number double (or more).

And it isn’t for everyone. Consider confining it to one room, because it “actually can be a limiting factor in future design changes, since the contractor will need to work around it or replace it by zones,” Streiff says. But did we mention that if you’re going to install it you should install it now? Install it now.

Outdoor outlets

Holiday lights or evening barbecues in the backyard might seem like little more than a distant fantasy when building your new home—especially if it’s 20 degrees outside—but if you’re big on decorating and entertaining, install outdoor electrical outlets now.

Adding outlets later can cost upward of $250 each. Adding them during construction, when walls are still open and a licensed electrician will be on site? It’s a no-brainer (and cheap, too).

Accessibility

You never know what the future might bring—for yourself or your guests.

“Shouldn’t your home be capable of entertaining a prize-winning physicist or a popular president without obstacles to their entry?” asks the ever-optimistic Streiff. Uh, yes.

Aside from any luminaries who might be getting on in years, you might consider designing for wheelchair accessibility for you, or a parent. In new construction, Streiff recommends making hallways and doors wide enough for wheeled traffic to travel through and turn around. And reinforcing the bathroom walls will allow you to add grab bars later without opening up the walls. After all, he says, “anything that is going to require opening the walls rates high on the difficult-to-retrofit scale.

“Double-check your plans through the eyes of someone bound to a wheelchair, and ask if it is still so user-friendly,” Streiff says. “Are you placing all of your switches too high or your outlets too low?”

Make the investment in your future well-being now, when it’s just a minor expense. Accessibility is important to plenty of buyers as well. It can actually clinch a deal.

Central vacuums

Forget the Roomba. “Central vacuums just make sense,” Streiff says. These built-in systems for sucking up dirt and debris not only reduce allergens, they also last longer than traditional vacuums and can potentially increase a home’s value. Installing one in an old home can cost up to $1,000 and requires finding a hidden, quiet spot for the motor in the garage or attic.

“The addition later on results in needlessly long pipe runs or less-than-ideal positioning of inlets,” says Streiff.

If a smooth, stress-free vacuuming experience is a high priority, your best bet is to install central vacuuming early, when your builder or architect can work it into your existing floor plan.

Eco-friendliness

When you’re building a home, why not take steps to reduce its impact on the environment? During construction is the ideal time to install energy-efficient features that will save you money down the line. Streiff recommends adding reduced-flow showers, low-flush toilets, and reduced-flow faucet aerators, especially if you live in a state affected by drought.

Make sure to choose windows and doors with high energy performance ratings, and talk with your builder or architect about adding skylights—which can add much-needed light to a dark room in addition to reducing heating costs and improving ventilation.

Are you building the home you want now—or the home that will serve you well for 20 years? In new construction, future-proofing your house can save you thousands of dollars. And lots and lots of angst.

The NASCAR Discount and Other Surprising Ways to Save Big on Home Insurance

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s #88 car

Homeowners pay an average $1,034 a year for insurance, according to the Insurance Information Institute, and that amount varies due to lots of variables: the value of a home, its location, the owner’s claim history, just for starters.

You probably already know you can get a discount of up to 20% by bundling policies—for home and vehicle, for example—and that’s just the beginning!

Insurance companies also offer a variety of lesser-known, and sometimes slightly odd, ways to whittle down your annual premium even more. Here are a few you should know about:

Rev up and join Dale Jr.’s nation

Nationwide offers a 1% discount to customers who sign up for Jr. Nation, a fan club forDale Earnhardt Jr., the NASCAR driver it sponsors throughout the season. Membership is free and available at DaleJrNation.com. Days, nights, and weekends of (lower cost) thunder!

Protect your nest

Insurance providers know that smoke and carbon monoxide detectors save not only lives, but also money on fire damage claims. That’s why American Family and Liberty Mutual offer homeowner policyholders a free Google Nest device and up to 5% off the fire insurance portion of a premium. The device connects through Wi-Fi to tell the insurance company that it’s working.

Several other insurers offer a similar discount for fire and theft systems that are monitored remotely and communicate directly with fire and police departments.

Go green

Travelers Insurance offers a 5% discount if you have a LEED-certified green home. You can also add a GreenHome upgrade (cost varies based on your coverage), which pays up to 10% to repair, replace, or rebuild with eco-friendly materials after a  loss.

Buy anew

Allied Insurance, American Family, Travelers, and others offer up to a 5% discount if you purchase a policy within 12 to 36 months of purchasing your new home. Some insurers will also offer a small discount if you purchase a new policy from them before a current one with a competitor expires.

Show off

Share the listing sheet or renovation upgrade information with your insurance agent.

The newly renovated wiring or impact-resistant roof that swayed you to buy a house can tempt your insurance provider into charging you less to protect it. American Family, Liberty Mutual, Allstate, and others reward homeowners with a small rate savings for substantial and/or certain safety upgrades.

Pay automatically

Allstate is just one of several insurers that offer up to 5% off the annual premium to homeowners who enroll in their autopay program and opt for payments to be deducted from a checking or savings account.

Have another inspection

Even if you had a home inspector go over your house when you submitted an offer, many insurers like to conduct their own inspection before finalizing a home policy. That second look is to make sure the coverage matches the cost to rebuild or repair, and also to identify potential claims such as a deck without handrails or gutters that are improperly installed.

While many insurers require their independent inspection within 30 to 60 days of the date the policy takes effect, CSE Insurance Group will give homeowners a 10% discount for (yet) another set of eyes taking a look at your home.

Explore your options

“Almost every insurance company offers a discount or two beyond the standard bundling and clean claim history options,” says Scott W. Johnson, an independent insurance broker in California’s Marin County. “The trick is pressing an agent to make sure you’re tapping into any potential savings.”

So don’t be shy. Johnson says agents don’t take offense to homeowners asking about possible discounts or other savings programs. “A good agent is your partner and wants to make sure you have the right coverage and price.”

These Neighbors Nearly Ruined Our Lives—Here’s What We Learned

fighting-neighbors

Neighbors from hell. They’re the stuff of movies, TV, Stephen King stories—and real life, unfortunately.

Some of these nearby strangers in our midst make for funny anecdotes (usually well after the fact). Some prompt us to seek intervention from psychiatric professionals, bartenders, exorcists, and even law enforcement officials. And some of them have forced major life decisions.

As it turns out, several of us here at realtor.com® have experienced major neighborly challenges. Here are five of our most harrowing stories—and the lessons we learned from them, whether we moved out or fought back (in legal and appropriate ways, of course). We don’t actually suggest you go all Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen in “Neighbors”—unless you have no choice.

1. The scary grouch

“I was renting a top-floor apartment in San Francisco’s Inner Richmond District, a sleepy neighborhood. I’d only been living there a few days before the shouting began … and the name-calling … and the banging with a broomstick from below. As I quickly learned, my unit had a high turnover because the ornery old guy who lived directly below never left his house and despised noise.

Apparently, the building suffered damage in the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989, and the owners didn’t bother to put soundproofing back in when they made repairs. And so every step I took and every cough I coughed could be heard by the seething man downstairs. One night after a particularly terrifying verbal assault, I called the police. But they couldn’t do anything about screaming unless there was a direct threat involved. The only way I could escape the situation was to move. –Brittney Gilbert, audience development editor

Takeaway: Ask whether your potential new apartment has soundproofing or sound-absorbing features in place.There are a few DIY tricks you can do to block noise through ceilings and walls, such as adding rugs, bookshelves, and other heavy pieces of furniture as a buffer between the walls. And use rugs (mandated by law in some cities) to mute your footsteps.

———

2. The late-night monsters

“The house next door to us was vacant for at least six months. Then it sold and was used as a flophouse. There were 10–15 people living there, coming and going at all hours. It was all young men—some you’d see for only a few months. They used their porch as the laundry room and enjoyed excruciatingly loud parties. The guy who parked his car in front of our house used to come home at 2 a.m. with his stereo at full volume. It woke me up every single night.

We tried to talk with a couple of them but never got anywhere. We called the police a couple of times, but not much came from that either. We dealt for almost two years before we couldn’t take it any longer—and got the hell out. We’d been wanting a larger house anyway, and this forced the issue.” –Erik Gunther, senior editor

Takeaway: Sometimes there’s not much you can do about neighbors who are simply annoying. After you’ve tried reasoning with them—but before you call the movers—try calling the police when the noise ordinance is being violated. Take note of the time frame in which the violation repeats itself (e.g., bagpipes practice at 11:30 every night) so the police can catch those next-door maniacs in the act. Noise-canceling headphones, meditation, and litigation are other options.

———

3. The odiferous ignoramus

“My neighbor did an illegal renovation of her kitchen that had her stove venting into my bathroom, disgusting as that sounds (and was). She loved cooking heavily seasoned cuisine of undefinable ethnic origins, so my bathroom always smelled like a Third World spice market. I complained to the co-op board, and she started harassing me in the hallway. When I finally stood up to her and told her to leave me alone, she sicced her husband on us. He kicked my door so hard it left a shoe mark and dent—and so when the police came they took my side. Then the real battle began, except I decided to completely ignore her and her aggression. It drove her mad. She actually ended up putting her apartment on the market and moving out before she sold.” –Rosie Amodio, consulting editor

Takeaway: Avoid engaging with furious people. They’re terrifying and sometimes exude strange odors.

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4. The tattletale

“My neighbor almost got me kicked out of my apartment. I was dog-sitting a friend’s dog who wasn’t very house-trained. So on our way downstairs to his morning walk, the pooch decided to pee on my neighbor’s welcome mat. Somehow my neighbor figured out right away. … She freaked and immediately set out to squeal to the landlord. I know this because by the time I got to her door 15 minutes later with a check to cover the expense for a new welcome mat, she had a letter in hand she was about to fax over. Pets weren’t allowed in the building, so that note would’ve got me booted! Luckily, I caught her before that happened.” –Judy Dutton, senior advice editor

Takeaway: If you fear you’ve rubbed a neighbor the wrong way, nip it in the bud immediately. A genuine apology can go a long way in making for a happy home life. And train your damn dogs.

———

5. The lunatic

“I was having a party in my apartment, and a small group of us decided to go up to the roof. My building was on a corner and, like most Brooklyn rooftops, connected to other buildings, so there was another party going on a few rooftops away. They weren’t particularly loud. Or so I thought.

Apparently, a longtime resident of the neighborhood had been incredibly annoyed by the multidirectional noise coming from the rooftop all night. It was dark, and I didn’t see him clearly, and thought it was a joke one of my neighbors was pulling when I saw something being swung at me. It turned out it was an infuriated man with a baseball bat. He struck me hard in the back of the leg and started swinging wildly, landing glancing blows on a few others, before we could run down the stairs. We called the cops, and when they arrived I led them upstairs, where the guy was still standing with the bat. When he saw me he yelled, ‘Oh, you come back for some more?!’ as a cadre of police officers spilled out from behind me. The look on his face as his anger melted into abject fear took some of the sting away from the huge bruise I had for months.” –Greg Chow, photo editor

Takeaway: Remember the ground rules of shared common spaces. You may think a rooftop is the ideal spot for your summer evening entertaining, but don’t forget that your rooftop party pad is likely another person’s ceiling. Also, watch out for people carrying baseball bats.

5 Home-Buying Nightmares Your Title Insurance Could Prevent

title-insurance

Imagine that you have found your dream home. Your offer is accepted, you close the deal, you move in. Then, just as you’ve started to make the house your own, the mail carrier delivers news that turns your world upside down: There was a lien against a previous owner, and now it’s been passed on to you.

That’s exactly what happened to Lori Moore and her husband.

“We had barely gotten everything settled in the house when two weeks later we received a letter from an attorney about a pre-existing lien on the house against the prior owner that now carried over to us as the new owners,” says the Louisville, KY, resident. The lien had been missed during the title search process because, Moore says, the county clerk had filed it in a way that made it hard to find.

At first, Moore says, they weren’t too concerned.

“We remembered paying for title insurance, but our Realtor® explained that policy only covered the lending institution for any title problems, not us as the homeowners.”

The Moores were left holding the bag for $2,000 to pay off the lien and attorney costs.

“If we would have bought [owner’s] title insurance to protect us, we wouldn’t have had to come up with that money as newlyweds and new homeowners,” Moore says.

As Moore and her husband learned the hard way, there are two types of title insurance policies. Title insurance, in general, offers protection against any problems with the title, or legal ownership status, of the home. Any lien against a home or competing claim of ownership could jeopardize your financial stake in it, as well as your mortgage lender’s. So the lender’s policy covers the lender’s stake, while the owner’s policycovers your own.

A bank will typically do a title search as part of the mortgage approval process to determine what, if any, legal claims and rights are attached to the house—and, ideally, prevent these kinds of problems. But no matter how thorough, a title search can’t rule out a relative or heir of a seller popping up with paperwork that appears to give them claim to a property. And sometimes, as in the Moores’ case, there are paperwork snafus. Hence the insurance.

Second sellers

Sometimes a distant relative—or an ex-spouse—may surface with a claim that they actually own the property, in whole or in part, and that the seller had no right to sell it to you.

If that happens, a judge could confirm the party’s claim, which means you could be faced with buying them out, having to negotiate, or … setting a bathroom schedule with a new roommate, says Marc Israel, president and chief counsel of MIT National Land Services, a title company in New York City. And say good-bye to that equity.

“A buyer could potentially be out their down payment and any principal paid toward the house,” says Dave Zawadzki, senior account executive at Proper Title, LLC, in Northbrook, IL.

If a judge rules in favor of someone staking claim to a house, the lender’s title insurance policy will only pay for court costs incurred by the bank, and it will reimburse the bank for what you owe on the mortgage if the sale is deemed null and void, Zawadzki says. An owner’s title insurance policy will cover your financial losses, such as attorney’s fees and court costs, even if you have to move out of the house.

Nudging neighbors

The adage that good fences make good neighbors might not hold true if it’s discovered that someone put up a fence, deck, shed, pool, driveway, etc., on your new property. And should that happen before you close, Israel says title insurance will pay the cost of any legal battle or efforts to settle the matter out of court and have the item removed from property that is legally yours.

Hidden mortgages

Just as with liens, it’s possible a title search might not uncover a mortgage until after closing because it was posted incorrectly with the county recorder, Israel says.

“Because the buyer received a clear title at closing, if an owner title insurance policy is in place, the buyer just has to file a claim and the policy will pay off that lingering mortgage,” Israel says.

Unpaid taxes

Zawadzki says that even though a tax search might come up with no delinquent taxes on a property, that doesn’t mean a buyer couldn’t subsequently receive notification of delinquent back taxes after closing. And that bill could be heavy—unless the buyer has owner’s title insurance.

“An owner’s title insurance policy would pay for this,” he says, “because the buyer was given paperwork that indicated taxes were paid.”

The point of purchase

Israel says a title insurance policy is issued the day of closing. It’s paid for then, too.

“The cost can’t be built into the mortgage,” he says.

The one-time premium cost varies by location. “Every state regulates the price of title insurance, which is always tied to the purchase price and/or mortgage amount,” Israel says.

Even if the chances are low that past owners or old tax bills might surface, it’s worth it to at least have a conversation with your attorney and/or title company about title insurance. If you’re on the fence about plunking down money for a policy, Israel suggests reviewing your finances. Ask yourself how you would handle the financial and possible relocation expenses if you were to suddenly awaken to a title-related nightmare.

6 Ways to Uncover the Truth About Your New Home—Before It’s Too Late

house-stethoscope

You set up appointments to visit your potential new home more times than you can count (you’re secretly wondering if your agent is going to change her number). You did so many drive-bys, your would-be neighbors are getting nervous. You took endless video of every room inside, and you measured all the spaces so you can start doing some late-night obsessive-compulsive furniture shopping. You’ve done all your due diligence, right?

We hate to break it to you, but maybe not.

There are a few more things to look out for—a few nagging annoyances that you might not notice right away but, unchecked, could eat at your soul day and night. Certainly, not all of the issues are deal breakers. But given the choice between dealing with them now or eventually becoming a bit too familiar with that bar on your (soon-to-be) new corner as you mull over what might have been, you might want to choose the former. Deal with the extra-fine details now!

Here’s how to make extra sure your new home won’t drive you crazy.

Drive by at night

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before (spoiler alert: You have!). Because it’s really,really good advice. A lot of basic but important questions (Is there a streetlight shining directly in my window? Do the neighbors throw late-night 80s hair metal parties?) can be answered with a quick after-hours drive-by (or two). Yeah, we know you’re already doing them during the day. Do them at night too—on the weekend as well as a weeknight.

“Find out what kind of noise levels there are before making your final decision,” saysAmy Cook, a San Diego Realtor®.

Do not skip this step: Discovering these problems after closing could give you an endless headaches.Like, real ones—migraines that won’t go away.

Take a walk and ask lots of questions

To be truly thorough, you need to get out of the car and hit the pavement. Repeatedly.

“If you really want to learn about the neighborhood and find out all the gossip, good and bad, walk around the neighborhood meeting people and asking them questions,” says Fort Collins, CO, Realtor® Angie Spangler.

Of course, this strategy works best if your neighborhood is sociable; in a suburban neighborhood without sidewalks or much daytime activity, you might not learn much (and you might freak people out a bit). Some moderation is key. And if things are tooquiet, maybe this hood isn’t for you. Or maybe it’s perfect. Some shoe leather reporting will give you a better indication of how you’ll fit in.

Understand the zoning

If there’s one thing that can prevent surprise heartaches, it’s understanding the neighborhood’s zoning laws.

Even if there are no restaurants or bars nearby today, commercial zoning allows their presence, meaning you might be right behind a noisy club five years down the line. Is your potential new home in a designated historic district? That can affect future renovation plans. In a mixed-use district? Some people don’t mind having shops and restaurants just around the corner, but you know best if that “some people” is you.

Spangler recalls selling a home to a couple a few blocks from what’s now Fort Collins’ Old Town—a raucous strip of retail shops and bars.

“They were upset that there’s commercial going in all around them,” she says. “I took for granted they had a good understanding of what to expect.”

Consult with the city’s departments

Speaking with your city’s planning, water management, and police departments can uncover vital information about your potential home—such as its flood hazard, which you may not notice in the dry season but can put your home at risk when it rains.

How close are you to emergency services and what’s the average response time? Is there a big commercial project underway nearby that could increase traffic? Do the crime statistics concern you?

Scope out social media resources

Apps such as Nextdoor help you keep an eye on the neighborhood and can be a valuable resource before moving in. Scour other apps and online resources, join local Facebook groups, and sign up for neighborhood email lists to find out the most common complaints and concerns of your new neighbors.

Pay attention to nearby homes

If you don’t have a trained real estate eye, it might be easy to overlook your neighbor’s unmowed lawn—but ignoring it might mean missing a vital clue to the area’s health and upkeep.

“As a real estate agent, it’s easy for me to identify the properties that are rentals or show lack of upkeep,” Spangler says.

If houses in the neighborhood aren’t well-cared for, it could affect property values down the line. Caveat Emptor. And that means you.

You’re Saying It Wrong (and 7 Other Myths We Debunk)

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New Orleans might be one of the most beloved, most despised, and least understood cities in America, all rolled into one. Love it? You probably think every day is Mardi Gras, when hand grenade–swilling locals party on Bourbon Street. Despise it? See the above—plus, you probably think it’s America’s most dangerous city, just waiting to separate unsuspecting tourists from their beloved fanny packs.

But we’re here to tell you it’s neither.

New Orleans is back in a big way, and whether you’re thinking of relocating—or just planning a getaway—separate the fact from the fiction before you head to the Crescent City.

Myth No. 1: It’s “Nawlins.”

Truth: Nope. Thanks largely to horrible accents in movies such as “The Big Easy,” many people assume that locals call it “Nawlins.” They don’t. It’s “New Orleans.” Say it with us now: New-Or-lens. Plain and simple.

Myth No. 2: New Orleanians are always drunk.

Truth: New Orleans does have some lax outdoor drinking laws and, yes, there aredrive-thru daiquiri stands, but locals know about a little thing called moderation.

According to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, Louisiana had the seventh lowest rate of alcohol poisoning deaths in the nation.

Myth No. 3: Tourists aren’t safe.

Truth: The city has crime (as all cities do), but New Orleans isn’t as dangerous as many out-of-towners think. In fact, in 2014 the murder rate was lower than it had been in more than 40 years. There has also been a big push to prevent lesser crimes. Local businessman Sydney Torres IV recently bankrolled a private policing force in the French Quarter, and the New Orleans Police Department is in the midst of a huge recruiting campaign.

Myth No. 4: New Orleans is below sea level.

Truth: This is only partly true. There are some disputes, but most experts believe only about half the city is below sea level, with some areas much higher. But it won’t always be that way. Because here’s the truth: New Orleans is sinking. Factors such as coastal erosion (a football field’s worth per hour) and poor engineering are causing more of the city to slip below sea level. So, this myth might eventually become reality. Just not tomorrow.

Myth No. 5: New Orleans hasn’t rebounded since Hurricane Katrina.

Truth: Even 10 years later, locals are still asked if New Orleans ever came back after Katrina. In fact, the city has been hard at work adding businesses, improving infrastructure, and repairing homes. The city’s population has also been on a steady incline, up to 78% of its pre-Katrina population, according to The Advocate. Many of those numbers include new residents, happy to call New Orleans home.

Myth No. 6: It isn’t cosmopolitan.

Truth: Tara Elders, wife of actor Michiel Huisman (of “Game of Thrones,” “Orphan Black,” and “Nashville” fame) made waves last year when she told a New York Times reporter, “New Orleans is not cosmopolitan. There’s no kale here.”

The fallout was huge, with locals dubbing the situation #KaleGate. In fact, New Orleans does have kale—and a bunch of other fancy cosmopolitan things—thankyouverymuch, Tara.

Esquire magazine recently named Shaya, a modern take on Israeli fare, as 2015’s best new restaurant in America. New Orleans has also hosted a world-class film festival for the past 26 years, and the city has a 30,000-square-foot farmers market in the works. If that ain’t fancy, we don’t know what is.

Myth No. 7: The swamp is right outside the door.

Truth: Thanks again to the magic of Hollywood, many people visiting (or moving) to New Orleans for the first time are excited to see the swamp. They can—once they hop on a Cajun Tour bus and head about 30 miles out of town. Thanks partly to nature and partly to human engineering, New Orleans is on dry land.

Myth No. 8: It’s hot and humid, and hurricanes happen all the time.

Truth: Hurricane season lasts from June through November, but many years New Orleans is spared any major storms. (The last hurricane to make landfall in the area wasHurricane Isaac in 2012.) And it’s almost never humid! OK, no—that’s a lie. It’s alwayshumid.