Buyer Beware: Tips to avoid a proximity problem
The Marion Landing wastewater treatment plant is shown located directly behind the backyards of brand new retirement homes in JB Ranch on Southwest 88th Loop in Ocala, Fla. on Tuesday, June 28, 2022. Numerous JB Ranch neighbors assert that they think their brand new homes were built too close to the sewage treatment plant (which was already in operation when their homes were laid out and constructed). They complain of a possible zoning violation, in addition to raw sewage smells, a loud noise 24 hours a day from the pump and possible health issues from airborne viruses and bacteria and chemicals being used to treat the sewage. They are irate because they said that DR Horton, the realtor and builder, and JB Ranch never told them about the wastewater treatment plant that borders their properties. They all made arrangements from out of state to build their retirement homes and never visited the construction sites. They invested much of their life savings to build their retirement homes and are totally frustrated and have not received any help from anyone even though they presented their case during the Marion County Commission meeting on Tuesday, June 21. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2022.
Experts agree, it’s usually a bad idea to be in a hurry to buy a house. Virginia Wright, president of the Ocala Marion County Board of Realtors, has seen this type of problem become more frequent as real estate transactions increasingly are done long-distance and virtual tours take the place of traditional open houses, drive-bys and walk-throughs, especially for out-of-town buyers.
It’s a trend that concerns her.
“We need to start stepping up and helping buyers using these virtual tours,” she said. “The seller does not have to legally disclose the sewage plant is near because you can see it when you drive through the neighborhood.”
Although federal housing laws restrict what can be said about a neighborhood, Wright thinks real estate agents should still help buyers investigate an area. Ideally, an agent can do a virtual/filmed tour that includes the entire community and area surrounding it in addition to a drive-by of the street and lot.
Here are some tips to help you avoid having this type of issue:
One, if you can, rent in the area first. This will give you time to really dig into the locale and give you valuable information about factors that could impact your quality of life. Noise, traffic patterns, weather, cost of living and other elements are things you can learn by living for a while in a new location.
Two, use online resources to examine map and images. Google Maps and Bing Maps, for example, have a street view option that lets you move the camera to see farther. Check out the area on all sides of the property you’re interested in. You might find a cemetery, a liquor store, or a gas station backing up to the property.
Three, check online reviews if you are considering hiring a builder. Browse through Facebook markets, NextDoor posts, and, of course, general online reviews of a neighborhood and/or builder. For example, reviews of D.R. Horton on Yelp show a 1.5 average star rating out of 5 with numerous complaints about the company rushing people to close and numerous construction quality issues.
Four, if you’re working with a real estate agent and cannot see the property in person, have them do a full video tour that includes the entire neighborhood from the turnoff from an exit or major road, side streets, and the neighborhood entrance. If you don’t have an agent, ask a friend or relative in the area to do it for you. If you don’t have a personal contact in the area, consider hiring someone to do this. Anyone with a smartphone camera should be able to help.
But keep in mind, unless you hire a buyer’s agent, the real estate agent works for the seller and has a fiduciary obligation to the seller, not to you.
Five, in Marion County, you can use the Property Appraiser’s website to explore parcels near the place you’re interested in. Use the Beta Map It! function and click on surrounding lots and parcels to see who owns them, what zoning the parcels currently hold and their size and estimated value. If you are near a new neighborhood under construction, check the approved master plan and check where the amenities, RV storage, DRAs and any water treatment plants are going to be located.
And most important, if at all possible, don’t be in a rush to buy a house. Consider putting your possessions in storage and staying a short time with a friend or relative or even setting up in an Airbnb or VRBO home or a long-term hotel while you do your exploring. Yes, this can be expensive but in the long-term, it may be cheaper that being stuck with a house you regret buying.