Three safety lessons for home shoppers.
- Educate yourself on the safety of an area.
You may have some concerns over the safety of a neighborhood. The importance of educating yourselves about neighborhoods is essential. For example, you might want to drive by the property at different times of the day to get a better sense of the neighborhood for themselves and to talk to neighbors.
Some real estate professionals provide a list of third-party resources for their buyers to check on crime statistics in an area, such as Family Watchdog to locate registered sex offenders in an area; CrimeMapping.com’s mobile app to uncover crime activity near your current location; and sites like DiedInHouse.com that reveal if any deaths occurred at the property in the past.
- Take extra precautions in distressed, vacant homes.
First, when showing an REO, make sure it’s safe to go in. Your agent should have done a perimeter search around the property before entering. Do you see broken windows, a kicked-in door, or any signs of someone living there through the windows (such as a sleeping bag on the floor or food left out)? If you see such signs that a squatter may be present, don’t go inside.
Also, homes that have been vacant may have maintenance issues. You may need to watch your footing as you tour the house, navigating away from any loose floorboards, steering clear of a rotted deck, and avoiding loose railings. Loose gutters or lighting fixtures may pose added dangers.
Abandoned animals might be inside too. In an REO, pets can sometimes be left by the previous owner, or wild animals may find a way in. Never approach an animal. It can become hostile. Contact your local humane society or shelter.
- Prevent buyer regret — and illness.
Another growing concern reported with REOs: drug contamination, and how a home’s tainted history can get lost if it sits in foreclosure limbo. The number of meth- or clandestine drug-contaminated homes is growing, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency. These drugs can seep into a home’s surfaces, and unsuspecting buyers who move in may face not only a range of respiratory illnesses or neurological problems but also a costly decontamination process of the home.
The risk from meth and clandestine contamination in homes is a rising concern that has prompted more real estate professionals to raise the issue to their clients. For example, homes where marijuana was produced may be more prone to mold damage. Rewired electrical work also can present fire dangers too.
No federal disclosure law exists for meth or marijuana grow houses, and the disclosure regulations vary greatly by state. Oftentimes, standard home inspections won’t turn up drug contamination problems either but requires extra testing by specialists.
Some real estate professionals have been trained to look for the signs, like the strong smell of urine or chemical smells like ammonia or acetone; trash filled with products like paint thinner, lighter fluid, drain cleaners, and cold tablet containers; and chemical stains on the toilets and bathtubs. Or, buyers and agents sometimes may feel some of the signs when they step inside the property, such as a burning sensation in the eyes or throat.
Buyers can be encouraged to check the Drug Enforcement Agency’s National Clandestine Laboratory Register, a searchable database of addresses that have been uncovered by law enforcement agencies to have clandestine chemicals or drug labs. Some counties and states also have databases to track such homes. They can also purchase meth-testing kits or have a professional test for contamination.