Are your clients relocating elsewhere? Perhaps they’re looking for a second home or a retirement property somewhere away from where they live now. Even when someone buys in their own area, their wonderful new home can turn into a nightmare if they aren’t exceptionally careful during the purchase process.

When we contracted to build our new home, I wanted underground utilities, city sewer and natural gas rather than electrical appliances. The subdivision where we purchased appeared to meet all those requirements. We received a list of utilities serving our MUD, or Municipal Utility District. Because I didn’t see any propane tanks I assumed that the area was on natural gas. When we were ready to move in, however, I was shocked to learn that our subdivision was on propane. Our former neighbors who purchased a new home about three miles from us said their heating bill was more than $800 per month last winter compared to $200 in their previous home. That’s because propane is not only a dirtier-burning fuel, it’s also almost three to four times as expensive.

With water shortages, mold, fires and floods in the news, clients need the help of a professional Realtor more than ever. For example, stucco construction is common throughout California and in many other places in the country. Recently, many Texas builders have started building more homes using stucco construction. When I mentioned the trend to a local Realtor, she responded by saying, “I would never buy a home with even a square inch of stucco on it!” The reason? Stucco construction cracks. If you live in an area where there is a high amount of rain and humidity, cracks can allow moisture into the walls. The result is mold.

Builders can minimize mold and improve energy efficiency by using a product such as Tyvek, which provides a barrier against moisture seeping in through any stucco cracks and thus reduces the probability of having mold problems. In contrast, some builders will use a less expensive product that looks like black paper with chicken coop wire on it. When the builder elects to use this cheaper product, any cracks in the stucco or stone can result in serious mold problems.

In new developments, erosion, drainage and accessibility to septic, sewer and water are important concerns. For example, you may be looking at a beautiful, multistory home with the garages on the first floor and a number of steps up to the front door. The day is beautiful and sunny. What you may not realize is that the homes are on such high foundations because there is a history of storm surges from hurricanes that periodically hit the area. It’s important to investigate whether the home you are purchasing is in a flood plain and what the history of the local area is with respect to hurricane and water damage.

It’s also important to determine whether you are on septic or sewer. A number of years ago, an agent sold a property on Mulholland Drive in Bel Air, Calif. When the city did its test for connection to the sewer, the property tested as not being connected. The search was then on for the septic tank. There wasn’t one. The waste was actually emptying at a remote point at the bottom of the hill.

With severe drought conditions affecting many places in the country, another key issue is accessibility to water. No one would expect a city as large as Atlanta to run out of water. Nevertheless, that’s what could happen if the drought they are experiencing persists. Growth in areas such as Las Vegas and Phoenix is straining the resources in those areas as well. Furthermore, if the area where you are purchasing is dependent on well water, it’s important to examine the history of the aquifer (the natural formations that capture and replenish the water supply). When the aquifer is not adequately recharged or is contaminated, the area loses its primary source of water.

A final issue to investigate is the cost of insurance. For example, if you own a home in Jacksonville, Fla., your property taxes, home insurance and boat insurance (provided you can get it) will be triple what it is in the neighboring state of Georgia.

If you or your clients are purchasing outside your local area, it’s imperative to check with local brokers as to the quality and the reputation of both the housing and the building in different areas. If you’re building a new home, ask neighbors how their experience was with the builder. How responsive is their customer service department? Do they respond immediately or does it take repeated calls to get a response?

If you’re purchasing a resale, ask the seller to obtain a copy of the property’s insurance-claim history through the Clue Database. Talk to people who live in the area before purchasing. Careful research is the best way to avoid potentially costly post-close surprises.

Bernice Ross, national speaker and CEO of Realestatecoach.com, is the author of “Waging War on Real Estate’s Discounters” and “Who’s the Best Person to Sell My House?” Both are available online. She can be reached at bernice@realestatecoach.com or visit her blog at www.LuxuryClues.com.

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