Dear Monty: Door knocking due diligence ideas for homebuyers
By Richard Montgomery
Reader Question: We are interested in a home in a neighborhood that is a perfect location for us. We are unfamiliar with the area, and we are considering knocking on a few doors to develop a better sense of place and possibly about the home itself. Do people do this? Will our agent be hurt or upset with us?
Monty’s Answer: Potential home buyers have been known to knock on doors. It is not clear how many buyers as a percentage of all home buyers will take this step, but being unfamiliar with an area and a neighborhood is a logical reason to seek to gather more data. Devise a short introductory script and hit the bricks.
What a great idea
My hunch is that not many people will take the time, or feel that it may appear as a foolish or unnecessary step. More people should be knocking on a few doors. Logic suggests that the best information will come from the closest neighbors; those within a few steps of the home in which you are interested. Also, consider a house or two on the next street where the backyards adjoin your prospective residence.
I am aware of a recent homebuyer who experienced two break-ins within the first six months. They believe the real estate agent was aware of a break-in problem in the neighborhood, but said nothing. No one except the real estate agent involved knows the answer to that question, but there are reasons to consider why the real estate agent may not have been aware of the issue.
Give the agent the benefit of the doubt
Most real estate agents work in dozens of neighborhoods, and in break-in instances often there are just one or two perpetrators. They ultimately are caught, and the crime problem evaporates. Additionally, depending on your location, real estate agents may not legally be able to tell you much. In my state they can point a buyer to the registered sex offender database, or to local crime report websites, of which there are many; some operated by local municipalities. Agents are also wary of libel lawsuits for passing along tainted information.
Why knock on doors?
Some real estate agents will encourage you to meet the neighbors. While the agent cannot tell you much, the lady across the street can tell you the police have been at your potential next door neighbors house numerous time in the past month. She may also know why the police are there. Mr. Peabody, three homes north of your potential home shares that the school district has problems, and they just moved their son to a new school. The teenager who answers the door on the next street says the single person living two doors south of your intended home has noisy after-hour parties at least once a week. You may also hear the pest control company is at your potential home regularly. All of these revelations deserve to be run down, but none of them may prove to be accurate or insurmountable.
The pros and cons of door knocking
- You are likely to learn more about the house and neighborhood characteristics.
- You are likely to learn more about your prospective neighbors.
- You will learn more about the neighbors you speak with than about the neighbors they mention.
- You will derive a sense as to neighborhood happenings.
- You may be rejected at the door.
- Neighbor biases may portray the neighborhood or your intended target inaccurately.
- They sell the home before you finish gathering information.
- If you reject the home but later learn the information was wrong, you lost a house you wanted.
Other helpful due diligence tactics beside door knocking
If for whatever reason the idea of door knocking is uncomfortable to you, there are other methods to gather neighborhood information. Find the closest house of worship and attend a service that has a coffee or meet-up afterward. Here you may get lucky and meet someone who lives on the same block. Another good source can be the postal carrier. Seeking out the mailperson can be combined with a neighborhood walk. You can find walkers or parents with strollers in the neighborhood certain times of the day or the week. If there is a small retail area, stop in a few of the shops as a potential customer or ask to speak with the owner or manager. Local school events with parents and children are another excellent source of information.
Richard Montgomery is the author of “House Money – An Insider’s Secrets to Saving Thousands When You Buy or Sell a Home.” He is a real estate industry veteran who advocates industry reform and offers readers unbiased real estate advice. Ask him questions at DearMonty.com.