A friend recently went on a date with someone she met online. Later, when asked how it went, she said he was great. But by the following week, she'd changed her tune and wasn't going to see him again. When pressed, she shared her reasoning.
"He was a felon! Something he said didn't make sense, so I Googled his name and a bunch of mug shots came up!"
Why, oh why didn't she Google his name before the date? It seems incomprehensible, especially when most people maintain a personal practice of Googling everything.
Now, not everyone needs to have a Google tic. But there isn't a subject you should be more curious and exploratory about than your home, no matter whether you're buying, selling, or simply living in it, with no plans to move anytime soon. Your home is where you parked your hard-earned cash, your time, your belongings, and most precious assets -- your loved ones and yourself!
Most people understand the thought process behind Googling a prospective date or employer beforehand. We submit that you should do the same with respect to your home, before you remove contingencies or set a list price, and even keep up the practice annually.
Here are a few reasons why:
1. To suss out the "street view" situation
Let's say you bought a home about seven years ago. It was red and entirely neglected, so you replaced the windows, added 700 square feet, and gutted the place. But until last year, when you searched the address online, Google surfaced a street-view photo that had been taken mid-remodel, when the windows were cut out and the place was half-red, half-primer!
Most house hunters and real estate websites pull in either Google images of your home or listing photos, if they are available. If your home's current street view is dramatically different from how it appears on Google, there's certainly no harm in saying so in your listing comments, so the older images don't scare off buyers.
Satellite views can help homebuyers understand how a home is situated on its lot and what the neighboring properties are like, which are good reasons for house hunters to Google addresses. Similarly, it can help a homebuyer understand whether work has been recently done to a property for purposes of following up, asking for permits and receipts, and just generally being aware of the home's recent history -- especially when the seller might not have disclosed those details, as with a foreclosure or estate sale.
2. To avoid harming your health
In the unfortunate (and rare) case, a home can be a health hazard. From methamphetamine manufacturing to radon to things like industrial and airport proximity, there are a number of potentially toxic or health-impacting property conditions that Google searches can help turn up.
The Drug Enforcement Administration maintains a database of homes that have been identified as drug labs; some of these properties require intensive, expensive cleanup before they can be healthfully inhabited. Radon and industrial and airport zones are also pretty easily discoverable with a Google search and, in most states, via disclosures that most sellers will provide. (Some people find living near an airport or other noisy zone impacts their sleep, even if there is no chemical concern.)
3. To surface HOA need-to-knows
When you buy a home that is part of a homeowners association (HOA), you'll almost always get a hefty package of disclosures directly from the seller and the association, detailing critical need-to-knows like the community budget, rules, and board meeting minutes. But troubling HOA information might not make it into those materials unless -- and until -- it rises to a boiling point.
A quick Google search can tip you off to brewing issues in the HOA. It might also point you to complimentary reviews of the subdivision, complex, managers, neighbors, and amenities from residents you might not be able to connect with until after you move in. A surprising number of HOAs are being reviewed on sites like Yelp these days -- just Googling the name of the HOA or subdivision will usually turn up rants (and raves).
HOA search results can unearth everything from neighbors decrying the fact that high dues delinquencies are preventing them from refinancing to unit owners giving building managers kudos for turning around the maintenance issues. Some reviews also include discussion of how association rules are enforced -- or not, as the case may be.
4. To learn of potential nuisances and niceties
Googling a prospective new home's address, street, neighborhood name, and city/state can also help you locate permit applications that have been recently filed with the local authorities. This is particularly true for permits in which the applicant was required to collect environmental or neighbor feedback as a condition for approval.
If you're buying a home, it's helpful to know in advance if the shopping center behind the property is applying for permits to expand, or if the school across the street is seeking permits for 100 more students (and a plan to accommodate 100 more cars at pickup time).
This sort of search is also helpful for homeowners who want to stay abreast of community developments and contribute their input. It might seem like buyers who seek out this sort of information are nitpickers extraordinaire. Nine times out of ten, this kind of search won't reveal anything of concern. But reading online permit applications -- and your neighbor-to-be's city council meeting arguments against the permit -- might help you understand the fuller landscape of community development issues at hand and make a more informed decision about buying a given property.
On the other hand, some planning issues might actually render a property more attractive to you than it was before. Neighbors may swoon over news that a Target is coming to their neighborhood in 2015. In the same vein, if you are buying a home located near a freeway, bridge, subway station, school, park, or shopping district, running a search on those places and amenities can also help you detect any coming construction or major changes -- for better or worse, and for your own planning purposes.
It might also surface things like reviews about your local parks, schools, bridges, and other infrastructure and neighborhood hot spots, which can be particularly helpful in planning your daily routes and family activities.
This article originally appeared on Trulia.com.
The Motley Fool recommends Google (A shares) and Google (C shares). The Motley Fool owns shares of Google (A shares) and Google (C shares). Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.