research before you buy
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 26, 2006 05:07 PM
Picture that dream house, with the perfect
kitchen and family room, low-maintenance yard and 15-minute commute to work.
A few minor details: there's airport traffic overhead, a freeway in the front
yard and a certain "eau de dairy" smell drifts over in the morning.
For Donna and Arturo Valenzuela, none of that matters. They love the house
they're renting in Chandler's Rancho Del Ray subdivision so much that they're
considering buying it. The proximity to the newly constructed San Tan Freeway
and Super Wal-Mart? Convenient, they say. They don't mind the airport noise or
the dairy feedlot smell.
But that's why they rented before buying, Donna
The Valenzuelas are doing what the experts advise: arming themselves with
important information before entering into escrow.
How? Research, research - and a little more research.
It's the key to preventing the "surprises" that seem to pop up for so
many Valley homeowners: the airport they didn't realize was less than a mile
away, the freeway they didn't know was coming or the giant crack that opened up
in the back yard after a week of heavy rain.
Blame it on a lack of diligence, believing what the neighbors and real estate
agents tell them, or a crazed sellers' market where buyers in competition to buy
a house don't want to rock the boat by asking, "So what is going to be
built across the street?"
Some don't find out the real truth about their neighborhood until the ink has
long dried on the sales contract, when it is too late.
If you don't want surprises, don't make an offer on a house or property until
you've done your homework, said RL Brown, who provides research for developers
and large corporations before they buy and build masterplanned communities and
"There's no such thing as enough due diligence that prospective consumers
can do," Brown said.
The Arizona Department of Estate makes disclosure reports for most newer
subdivisions available on its online public database at: www.re.state.az.us.
Anyone can look up the reports for a subdivision such as Rancho Del Ray and see
that potential buyers are warned about the Chandler Municipal Airport, the San
Tan Freeway, an underground jet fuel line running through Pecos Road, and the
proximity of dairies and farms, among other things.
"Everybody makes a series of choices, and it goes down to the age old
'buyer beware' at some point," Brown said.
Drive the neighborhood so you'll know if there's railroad tracks or an airport
nearby before buying, he said. Research county, municipal and Arizona Department
of Transportation maps and Web sites.
Then you won't end up like several hundred homeowners in Ahwatukee, many of whom
claimed they knew nothing about the proposed South Mountain Freeway segment
coming to their area, or thought it had been shelved, he said.
"You can go to ADOT's Web site and see any road that's ever even been
thought about," Brown said.
Worried about whether your dream house is in the homeowner's association from
hell? Stephanie Fee, an HOA adviser and assistant vice president at Capital
Consultants Management Corp., said it's important to check out an HOA before
buying in it.
Make sure the association has adequate reserve funds for maintenance projects,
so you won't get hit with special assessments to pick up the tab, she said. Read
the rules and design guidelines so you'll be sure to understand what you're
getting into, and attend a meeting of the association's board of directors so
you can meet who's in charge.
Steve Urie, a Gilbert Town Council member who owns a property management firm
and invests in real estate, said he would never purchase land or property
without first looking at planning and zoning maps.
"Call the planning office and ask them who's coming to the area, what's
likely going to be there," he said.
If a vacant parcel is zoned for a Wal-Mart, and sized for a Wal-Mart or other
big box retail, don't be surprised if that's what moves in, he said.
Even diligent research may not have prepared several Pinal County residents for
the giant fissure cracks that opened up their properties after heavy rains in
A statewide map of earth fissures has never been created. The Queen Creek and
Santan areas were last mapped in 1994.
Outcry from the fissures that opened up on properties in that area last year has
prompted the Arizona Association of Realtors and some elected officials to draft
a bill to ensure that buyers receive truthful information about land fissures
when they purchase property.
In Chandler, recent tests at a 44-year-old Santan Honeywell jet engine facility
about two miles south of the city resurrected neighborhood angst over the noise
and how much was disclosed to home buyers. In 2003, neighbors filed two lawsuits
in Maricopa County Superior Court against builders who failed to include the jet
testing in reports.
The lessons? Don't count on sellers, agents or developers to disclose
everything, experts say.
Several homeowners in Gilbert's Power Ranch were upset last year when an
apartment complex built in their neighborhood turned out to include low-income
housing, not the "luxury condominiums" many residents claimed they
were told about. Plans to set aside as much as 90 percent of the units at the
San Clemente apartment complex for low-income individuals were on the books for
at least a year before many of the Power Ranch residents had even purchased
"You can't always depend on what you're told," Fee said.
Never purchase property without thoroughly understanding how it is zoned and
what can and cannot be built on it.
Also, research the disposition of the planning department and communities
nearby: do they listen to residents, or cave to developers?
The best weapon is due diligence combined with the buyers' eyes and ears, Brown
Donna Valenzuela said her family is happy in Rancho Del Ray, and they feel
comfortable buying a house there now.
"You have to find a neighborhood where you feel safe," she said.
"And I have really good neighbors."