Rochester, New York City Guide
Rochester, NY City Guide

© 1996-2015 Max Lent Communications

      

  

 

Home Buying and Selling Tips

by Max Lent

The following advice is anecdotal and based on my experience purchasing a home. 

Topics

Buying Realtors Selling Moving

Buying

How much is a home worth?

The seller's Realtor will tell you how much the seller wants for the property, but that may not be a reasonable asking price.  To find out the value of the house you are evaluating visit Zillow.com.  You will be asked for the address of the house and it will return information on the last selling price of the house and information on the selling prices of all of the other homes on the same street.  This information appears to be based on the current assessed value.  Although this data is not an absolute indication of value, it does provide you with a baseline of factual information.  Use Zillow.com to look up the value of your existing property as well.  This is the kind of transparency that only the Internet could provide. 

Representation

If you are the home buyer, never allow a single Realtor to represent you and the seller in a deal.  Realtors always represent the seller unless they contract with you to be your paid representative.  Realtors have incentives for being the seller's and the buyer's agent because they get money coming and going.  However, the agent is always working for the seller no matter what they may tell you. 

The relationship between a home seller and a home buyer is adversarial.  The seller wants the highest possible selling price with the fewest concessions possible.  The buyer wants the lowest possible price with as many concessions from the seller as possible.  The realtor is the representative of the seller and will attempt in the best of deals to negotiate the best deal for the seller.  The higher the price of the house, the greater the percentage for the realtor.  Home buyers should invest in the services of a representative to represent them.  The fees should be more than offset buy the representative obtaining a lower price and better concessions.

Ask lots of questions. 

When visiting a property, on which you are seriously considering making an offer, write out a list of at least 50 questions to directly ask the owner and the realtor.  These questions should include:

  • Does the roof leak?
  • Has the basement ever flooded or had water on the floor?
  • Has the house been broken into?
  • Has the owner had to call the police regarding a neighbor or neighbors?
  • Are there barking dogs in the neighborhood?
  • Are there any existing problems with the electrical system?
  • Are there any existing problems with the plumbing?
  • Has the house ever been treated for insect infestation?
  • Has the house ever had a fire?
  • Has the house ever experienced structural damage from a natural or other disaster?
  • Are there any structural flaws in the house?
  • Have you asked the neighbors to temporarily hide barking dogs, clean up their property, basketball hoops, or other undesirable issues?
  • Do visitors park outside and user their car horns instead of using doorbells? 
  • Do the neighbors scream and yell at each other?
  • and so on

My suggestion is to write out your list as a table and have the seller initial a yes or no column and sign it.  If the seller lies, they can be held legally responsible. 

For example, I made an offer on a home and had the home inspected by an engineer.  The realtor recommended the engineer--something that I would never agree to again.  The day the engineer performed the inspection, the air temperature was too cold to test the air conditioner.  I didn't ask the realtor or the seller if the air conditioner had any problems.  I only asked if it worked and was to find out that it did.  Only after I moved in and had the air conditioner serviced did I discover that the unit had a broken valve.  The air conditioner worked, but the broken valve will result in a quick demise of the unit.  Repair was out of the question because the company that built the air conditioner had gone out of business years before my purchase of the house.  Repair of the valve, if parts were available, would cost thousands.  Replacing the air conditioner will also require replacing the furnace which will cost more than $5.000.  The question that I should have asked the owner was, "Has the air conditioner ever been diagnosed as having a problem?"  If it had, I would have negotiated for its replacement as part of the purchase.  Not asking the right question cost me $5,000.  Buyer beware!

Interest Rates

Shop around for interest rates.  Do not automatically consider using the realtor's broker.  Realtors have an incentive to keep as much of the transaction profits within their company as possible.  You may be able to obtain lower interest rates from local banks, credit unions or other mortgage brokers.  Check the newspaper Real Estate section for mortgage rate listings.  Compare those with what is available on the Web.  In my last home purchase I was able to obtain great service and an excellent rate through my realtor's broker.  However, if I had made arrangements with another company I could have saved more than $20K over the course of the loan.  Another possibility is that I could have lost the house if I had worked with a Web-based company that took too long to respond.

House Not Selling?  Look next door or across the street.

Boats, RVs, Trailers, and other stuff in the driveway

Nothing costs a seller more than a nearby or an adjoining neighbor with some combination of a boat, RV, snowmobile trailer, motorcycles, ATV all terrain vehicles, and commercial vehicles parked in their driveway.  

As I am writing this a neighbor is trying to sell a their house.  Potential buyers drive by the house every day.  They stop and look at the house, read their realtor printouts, and drive another 20 feet to look at the next door neighbor's house.  After about as much time as it takes for them to utter "Oh my God," they drive on and never come back.  Why? 

  driveway

Click on photo to see a larger view.

Would you buy a house next to this driveway?   Even if you wouldn't there is no guarantee that the next neighbor who moves in next door or across the street will not bring all of this and more with them.  During the fall, a refuse hauling trailer shows up.  During the winter a snowmobile trailer is added to the collection.  Unfortunately for the neighbor who is trying to sell, this neighbor is forcing down the value of their property.  

If you are considering buying next to such a property, you may want to consider what you may buying into.  A neighbor with lots of vehicles, trailers, and sports machinery in their driveway and yard will likely be the kind of neighbor who cuts down trees to put in a parking lot.  They may also be the kind of neighbor who believes that their property extends well beyond their boundaries.   This kind of neighbor usually has a mutt tied up in the yard barking at would be buyers viewing the property next door.

Large commercial trucks parked in a driveway quickly lowers the class rating of a neighborhood.  It's up to you if you want live in a blue collar or a white collar neighborhood.  Both have advantages and disadvantages, but know what you are buying.  Some communities have zoning laws that limit the size of commercial vehicles that can be parked in a residential neighborhood.  Expect protracted legal battles to get this kind of commercial truck banned from the block.

On the other hand, if you are into RVs, snowmobiles, motorcycles, trailers, and so on, these may be the next door neighbors you have been looking for.  It could be the start of a community, especially as the existing neighbors sell their properties cheap and move on. 

The Sound of a House Not Being Sold

Perhaps a new Real Estate cliche should replace the old one about what makes a property valuable--"location, location, location."  The new one would read something like "what makes a property value drop quicker than anything else--noise, noise, noise."

Swimming pools. 

If on some summer weekday or winter day you visit a house with a swimming nearby.  Try to imagine pool parties going on all weekend from morning to night during the summer.  Parties equal noise.  The noise come from pool partiers having a good time at your expense.  There will be loud music, yelling, laughter, and more possibly associated with pools.  Remember that weekends are the time of the week that you will be at home attempting to sleep in, relax, or desire a little peace and quiet.  While some Real Estate descriptions may try to indicate that swimming pools are indicative of a "family oriented neighborhood" they could be party central during the summer. 

Basketball hoops

If you are a sports fan and find the constant thumping sound of basket balls on pavement, buy a house near a basketball hoop.  Otherwise, think twice.  At one house I owned, the next door basket ball hoop was a magnet for youths from blocks away.  They kept the balls in play from early in the morning until late at night.  Basketball hoops are another indicator of noise.  Playing basketball is a noisy fun game.  Basketballs also go out of bounds and possibly into your yard.  Think about whether you want unwelcome teens on your property, especially when you are not at home.  Watch out for neighborhoods where there are basketball hoops set into the edge of the lawn near the street.  The owners of these homes will not likely take kindly to your moving in next door and them telling them to move their basketball hoop. 

Barking dogs

Some people, dog owners for example, seem to be able to filter out the sound of barking dogs.  Others like me, find the sound of barking dogs unbearable.  A great Real Estate agent for me would be one who could tell me if a property I am about to evaluate has barking dogs within a quarter mile.  When I visit a property and hear a neighbor's dog barking nearby, I move onto the next property without even asking seeing the interior.

I bought a house with no apparent dogs nearby only to find out that my relater had the neighbors keep their dogs hidden when I was shopping.  Now I have barking dogs on three sides and will likely have them on four sides within a year.  Walking to my mailbox I am often barked at by five dogs.  Working in the yard is unpleasant at best when you have Rottweilers sneaking up on you as I have. My neighbor refused to keep their dogs out of my yard. After a half dozen requests, I called animal control. My neighbor was offended by having someone from animal control tell them that their dogs could not run freely and I doubt if the neighbor will ever talk to me again.

Unless you own and enjoy barking dogs, ditch properties with nearby dogs. and move on.  You will likely never get away from barking dogs, but you may have a few years or quiet if you buy a house without nearby dogs.

Mechanical noise

Dirt bikes, hobby car repair garages, snowmobiles, and other mechanical noise polluters are a real turn off to buyers.  We visited a Real Estate listing that was in a housing track on a cul-de-sac.  As we turned into the cul-de-sac we had to slow to a stop to avoid pre-teen boys riding unlicensed dirt bikes in the street.  Needless to say, we turned around around at the first driveway and never returned.  I wonder how much those dirt bikers cost the seller?  I wonder if they ever figured out the cost of the noise or if the noise was why they were selling?

Screaming Neighbors

One of the issues that drove me out of the city was that my neighbors would much rather yell from house to house than use a phone or walk.  I thought that I would leave that behind when I moved to the suburbs.  Wrong.  I have neighbors now who, when they aren't using every imaginable motorized yard tool available to humans, yell their conversations with each other.  They are probably nearly deaf from operating their noisy lawn tools, but more likely, they come from a lower economic class where this is the standard sound volume of communicating.  One way to avoid this situation is to walk the neighborhood rather than drive through it.  You can evaluate the neighborhood more carefully on foot.  In my case, the yelling neighbors moved in after I did.  There's not much you can do about that, but move frequently. 

Wood Floors

If you are buying the downstairs to anything such as a loft or a condo, find out what the upstairs floors are made of. If the floors above you are wood they will amplify every sound in the rooms above. A way of testing how sound proof of the flooring is to have someone walk around on the floor above pushing furniture. Next have them play a stereo or TV loud enough for you to hear it.

What you want is concrete floors and ceilings. Even concrete will not fully insulate you from your neighbor's noise, but it will be a great improvement over wood floors.

I once lived in the downstairs apartment in a wood building. My upstairs neigbhors included a child just learning how to run and an ex lighthouse keeper who awoke every fortyfive minutes all night long to go check the lighthouse light. There was no lighthouse light, so he just roamed around his apartment before going back to sleep for fortyfive minutes. Every strip of the floor in his apartment creaked and snapped when he stepped on it. During the evenings, I could pinpoint where everyone in my neighbor's apartment was standing and I knew if they were watching TV or listening to the radio and what channel or stations they were turning in.

Commercial Trucks

Look for commercial trucks or trailers parked in driveways. If you see them, throughout the neighborhood that's ok. If you drive through an upscake neighborhood with one driveway with a commercial truck, trailer, and motorcycles parked in the driveway, that degrades the value of all of the homes around it. Keep driving.

Maps

When we purchased our current house, we looked at more than 800 homes using the online services.  When we found a property that seemed interesting or worth knowing about we used a online map program to get an idea where the property was located.  Mapping programs like Microsoft's MSN Maps and Directions, Google's map program, Yahoo's map program, and Mapquest.  Any of these services will enable you to zoom in and out to see if there is an expressway or park nearby.  Google's map program has a feature that enables you examine properties even closer.  It has satellite photographs.  Add the address of the property you are exploring to the address box.  When Google finds the address, use the satellite image button to see what the property looks like from the air.  Look for nearby garbage dumps, power lines, freeways, and other attributes that would eliminate a property.  For example, if you don't want a house next door to a swimming pool or a sports park, you can eliminate those houses by using the satellite view.  If you want to take the satellite view to the next level of resolution, experience Google Earth and Google Maps. Google Earth requires that you install free software on your computer and that your computer has a broadband Internet connection, but it is worth the effort.  Never before has a home buyer had access to such valuable visual information.  

A Place In The Country

If the property you are considering purchasing is next to a forest or field, know that the forest or field will sooner rather than later be developed.  What it is developed into will most likely be what you are moving away from.  Never trust what the owner or the Real Estate agents say about about the adjoining property.  They have an incentive to play down or lie about what they know about possible development of the adjoining property.  Go to the city planning department and look up who owns the adjoining land and what it is zoned for.  If the land you are considering is at the edge of a city, know that the adjoining property can be re-zoned and sold in the blink of an eye.  The only way to protect your purchase of country property is buy lots of land. 

Use Google Maps and their aerial photography option to view the land around the property that you are considering.  If there is a stub road, a road that points to a forest or open space that just ends without a cul de sac, assume that the stub road will soon be continued.  A Realtor told us that a nearby stub road might remain a stub road for tens of years.  They were, at the very least, misinformed.  Stub roads in places like Webster and other eastern and southeastern towns and counties should tell you one thing, development is coming.

If you currently live near a forest or open space, don't expect any local or national wildlife, forest, nature or environment organization to come to you aid in stopping the eventual development of your forest.  I know this from experience.  Most of these kinds of non-profit organizations seem to exist to solicit donations rather than saving habitats.  Developers, supported by politicians will almost always win.  You are better off investing your time in moving than fighting.  When you eventually lose your battle and see the forest logged or the open space bulldozed for development, your heart will break.  It is not worth the pain. 

My untried fantasy concerning the purchase of country land is to buy every acre I could then donate all but the portion I want to live on to a nature organization with an iron-clad agreement that they would never sell or develop the land.  Another fantasy would be to buy lots of acreage and then use the land as some kind of tax advantage by planting Christmas trees or creating a wet land area.

When we lived in the city, we griped about the crime and gun shots we would hear from time to time.  When we looked at property in the country, we heard more gun shots than we did in the city.  If you are urban liberals, like us, you might not make many friends of your neighbors in the mostly right wing conservative rural countryside. 

Broadband Internet access becomes an issue as you look at houses in the country.  First, digital subscriber line, DSL access drops off at the suburbs.  Next, cable access drops off when you get to the edges of the suburbs.  Then you are left with dial-up or satellite access.  Perhaps the absence of broadband Internet access explains rural conservatism.  To get a feel for what it is like to go back to dial-up access disconnect your computer from your broadband connection and dial-up your Internet service provider, ISP, using a modem.  It's intolerable.  Satellite access sounds like a good idea, but consider that you only get a download speed comparable to a quarter of the speed you get from DSL or cable and uploads use the phone line.  Perhaps another cliche Realtors could use in describing the value of a property could be "broadband, broadband, broadband."

Local Government

Go to the local library in the area where you are considering purchasing a home.  Ask the reference librarian to provide you with information on the town government.  What you are looking for is how the Town and its boards have voted on issues like green space, regulating development, and other issues of concern to you.  In my case, I bought a house in a town where the planning board was chaired by a developer.  This is a like having the fox guard the hen house.  As a result the planning board has approved nearly every development request for more than a dozen years.  Ugly and poorly designed shopping centers replaced woods.  The commercial corridor became over developed with redundant businesses that are sure to fail.  If I had done my homework, I would have found that my town government is developer biased and that few voters in the town care one way or the other. 

You may have different needs and aesthetic requirements.  For example, if you want to live in a community where there is a drug store on every corner and at least two Starbucks within three minutes drive from your home, my town would be perfect for you.  What is important is that you do the research to find out if the town government is one that you would support.  Whatever you do, don't even think about changing the government after you move into the town.  You will be in a minority and suffer a great deal of frustration.

Realtors

An article titled "House for sale, neighbor as is" by Jim Hawyer in the 9/22/07 Democrat and Chronicle Newspaper's Real Estate & Rental section outlines some of the devious practices used by Realtors to sell homes to unwary buyers.  Instead of warning a buyer about a next door neighbor's barking dog, a Realtor proudly admits to urging the neighbor to keep their dog in during home presentations.  Another example described how a Realtor and a seller negotiated with a next door neighbor to keep their children's toys off their lawn when a home was being shown to potential buyers.  What this clearly points out is that you, the buyer, must return to the neighborhood repeatedly and unannounced to see the true state of the neighborhood.  The article was meant to illustrate how useful Realtors can be in dealing with neighbor issues.  Closer scrutiny shows that Realtors will use any method they can find within the law to deceive buyers.  It seems to me that if you were able to prove that a Realtor asked a neighbor to hide barking dogs when a house is being shown to you, that you should be able to sue the realtor and the neighbor.

 

Selling

  • If you are the seller and your agent negotiates with the buyer to also represent them, know that the Realtor will be working for the deal first, you second, and the buyer third.  Time equals money and if the Realtor controls both the seller and the buyer the incentive is for them to close the deal quickly and move on.  The sellers and the buyers often feel as though they were taken advantage of in these kind of relationships.  Often they are.
  • My experience with Realtors is that on a low price house they want to under price it to sell it quickly.  The reasons for listing a low priced house for less than market value are numerous. 
    • The Realtor will not want to spend as much time on a deal where the house costs $50K instead of $500K.
    • Buyers of homes that sell for less than $50K will likely, based on my one experience, will have trouble obtaining credit, the down payment, and meeting deadlines.
    • The Realtor may not want to work with blue collar buyers.
    • There are more problems with low priced home sales than with higher priced homes.
  • Find a Realtor who has sold homes in your neighborhood.  Never hire a suburban realtor to sell an urban house.  Chances are they won't even like parking their car in front of your urban home out of fear of car theft or break in.  They may also lack respect for your potential buyers.

Movers

Getting accurate estimates from movers is impossible.  Monetary incentives cloud reality.  Every mover wants to have the best price, so they estimate low.  Sometimes they estimate very low.  The estimate means literally nothing.  Whatever the mover decides to charge you at the end of your move, you will have to pay.  Horror stories are numerous.  The television program "60 Minutes" even ran an expose' of movers many years ago.  The con was to bid very low and submit an outrageously high bill before unloading the truck at the destination.  If the customer couldn't come up with the money, the movers would take away the customer's goods and hold them in storage until payment was received.  Laws protect the movers.  Once you agree to be moved by a company you are at the mercy of that company.

The Internet gives moving customers some leverage.  For example, I sent out an email to everyone I know in the Rochester, NY area and asked them to share their moving recommendations and stories with me.  The responses were compiled into a Web page.  The list of movers was alphabetized and the customer comments were inserted below the mover's names.  The list was then published to my personal Web site.  I still share that list with friends who are looking for movers.  The mover that I used was Rochester Moving and Storage.  They were terrific.  Dave Conkey runs his operation efficiently.  He is good natured, honest, and his estimate was reasonably close to reality.  His team is reliable, careful, and thoughtful.  Some of his team demonstrated incredible strength as they easily hefted oversized and too heavy book boxes.  Nothing was broken.  Only a couple minor scratches showed up on large appliances.  I recommend Dave and his team without reservation.

Wherever you live you can create a similar resource about Realtors, mortgage brokers, movers, or any other service  to share with friends, colleagues, or the public.  You can start a free discussion group on Yahoo http://groups.yahoo.com/ or MSN http://groups.msn.com/home on any topic.  You can make your discussion private or public.  You can easily accomplish the same result with even less effort by sending out an email to your friends and colleagues as I did.  Just don't hoard the information.  Once you have collected everyone's comments collate them and send the entire collection back to everyone who responded.  I removed names to protect the anonymity of information sharers. 

Tips

  • If you are moving locally, move all of your delicate and valuable items yourself.  Leave moving your large appliances, books, and furniture to the movers.
  • Request recent references.
  • Visit the mover consumer group Web sites listed below in Resources.

Resources

Books

Consumer groups

Movers

  • Rochester Moving & Storage. 30 Harrison Terrace, Rochester, NY 14617. Phone: (585) 467-7610

Realtors

Was this information useful to you?  Did I leave out anything?  Send me an email and let me know how useful or useless this information was to your home buying or selling experience.   Thank you Max Lent

 

 

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