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Buyer Beware! (Always do your due diligence.)

When you purchase a piece of property, there are always lots of factors to consider before you sign on the dotted line. You’re making a big purchase, so you want to make sure you’re properly protected from any (unwelcome) surprises later on.

For example, is the property you’re thinking of buying in good condition? How old is the roof? Does the heating system work? Does the property have a septic tank or a private well? Can you add on an extra room sometime in the future?

The process of answering these and many other questions is generally referred to as doing “due diligence.” In Massachusetts, much of this due diligence usually takes place during (or before) a ten-day window of time after an Offer to Purchase is accepted, and prior to a Purchase and Sale Agreement being signed. And, in almost all cases, the responsibility for doing due diligence rests solely with the Buyer individually.

Having said that, you need not feel that you’re alone. Many questions are best answered with the help of qualified professionals. For example, a home inspector can tell you lots of things you might not have realized about the condition of your property and the major systems within. A visit to the code enforcement officer can tell you about zoning and other property features. If you’re buying a condo, you probably also want to check with the homeowner’s association to review applicable rules and financial information.

Other questions require a little more legwork. For example, you might want to find out if the property you’re purchasing is in a flood zone or historic district. That could become a financial burden or limit what you can do with the property. You might wish to know more about local schools, if that’s important to you, or the proximity to other nearby amenities. You might also want to know more about whether there is a lot of crime in the local neighborhood, or if any sex offenders live there. The list goes on and on.

Your real estate agent can help to guide you through the process and make suggestions. But, remember: since you’re the one spending the money, it’s up to you to make sure you do the research you need to satisfy yourself with the quality of what you’re buying. In fact, in many cases, ethical and legal rules limit or prohibit your real estate agent from answering these questions on your behalf. It’s also your responsibility to make sure you find out all the answers you need in a timely manner — usually, not later than the expiration of the period for inspections stated in your Offer to Purchase (assuming you reserve this right for yourself in your Offer — usually a smart consideration!), and sometimes before you even submit an Offer to buy the property. If you wait too long, you might jeopardize your ability to cancel your intended purchase or possibly obtain a reduction in the purchase price to cover needed repairs.

As the saying goes, “Buyer Beware!” Always make sure to do your due diligence before you buy property, and make sure you answer any questions about it before you commit yourself.