You can find the PERFECT property at an amazing price if you don’t mind that the house is:
Next to the nuclear power plant, on top of the pet cemetery, behind the Superfund site, under the high voltage power lines, adjacent to the transcontinental oil pipeline, catty corner from the slaughterhouse and down the street from the 24 hour casino.
Joking aside, what about adverse neighborhood conditions? How much should you worry about the neighborhood (and what surrounds the neighborhood) when you purchase a house?
In Georgia, generally speaking, the doctrine of caveat emptor, or BUYER BEWARE, applies to real property, meaning that the onus is on the buyer to investigate and discover adverse conditions pertaining to a home if those conditions can be discovered through reasonable inspection of the property. The seller does have disclosure obligations if they know of adverse material defects that are not easily discoverable by the buyer. Those seller disclosure obligations DO NOT, however, apply to conditions that are not present on the property itself. In other words, Georgia courts so far have not held a seller liable for failure to reveal information about adverse neighborhood conditions even when those conditions are not easily discovered. And the Georgia real estate contracts also put the burden on the buyer to investigate the neighborhood. As the official Georgia Association of Realtors contract states:
In every neighborhood there are conditions which different buyers may find objectionable. Buyer shall have the sole duty to become familiar with neighborhood conditions that could affect the Property such as landfills, quarries, power lines, airports, cemeteries, prisons, stadiums, odor and noise producing activities, crime and school, land use, government and transportation maps and plans.
Therefore, when considering the purchase of a home, you should definitely investigate not only the houses that surround the home, but also the neighborhood and the immediate environs. Personal drive arounds at various hours of the day and night (and on different days of the week) as well as examination of Google maps is a good place to start. In addition, you may want to check with the municipality and county to see what sorts of businesses are within a mile or so radius of the home.
You can research whether there are registered sex offenders in the neighborhood by reviewing the Georgia Violent Sex Offender Registry at www.gbi.georgia.gov, and you can search for reported drug laboratories or dumpsites at the U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration website (www.dea.gov/clan-lab – the national clandestine laboratory database).
The Georgia Environmental Protection Division has information about landfills, medical waste treatment sites and the like at www.epd.georgia.gov. You can also find information about some, but not all, closed landfills on the EPD website (that vacant lot across the street may be an old landfill; something you will want to know when you buy the house.) On the subject of landfills, note that in Georgia previously many builders and homeowners created “inert landfills”, or landfills composed of concrete, rocks, bricks, yard debris and the like while building or renovating. This is no longer allowed legally, but of course inert landfills still exist and may be difficult to find (this is something the seller would be required to disclose if present on the property you are purchasing, but not if it is elsewhere in the neighborhood.)
And do not forget the obvious – simply doing a Google search of the address and looking past the real estate listings to see if there are any news stories or other hits for the address can give information, as can googling the neighborhood and the houses which surround the house you are planning to buy.
Ask your Realtor to help. And ask the seller what they know (even if they are not legally obligated to tell you something, they are often willing, especially if asked outright). Ask the neighbors. Drive the neighborhood, stop your car, and greet those you see. Most will be happy to talk to you about the neighborhood and what they know if you smile and are friendly. And the bonus will be that not only do you know what is happening around the house you are purchasing, you will also know your new neighbors – the human kind.