The inspector will provide you with a report on their inspection. This report will list any issues -- big or small -- that they find, tell you whether there are any major repairs you can expect to make in the near future, and alert you to any safety issues you should be concerned about.
Before buying a property, you need to make sure it has a clean title. This means that there are no outstanding liens on the property and that no one else has a claim to its rights. For example, if you bought a property without realizing there was a tax lien, you could end up with an unexpected foreclosure notice.
Being protected from title issues is why most sales involve title insurance. The title insurance company will check the chain of title to make sure that any liens either have already been released or will be released at the time of the sale. The title insurance policy will then cover you from losses resulting from any unresolved liens or claims.
The title search will also find any deed restrictions or restrictive covenants on the property. These restrictions can limit the use of the property by prohibiting certain uses or even preventing future construction on the property.
Property taxes can be a major expense. They can be the difference between whether or not a house is affordable, as well as whether an investment will be profitable. Knowing what you can expect to pay in property taxes is an important step in the due diligence process.
You'll want to find out how the sale of the property will affect the property taxes. In some cases, the property taxes may increase after a sale, so find out what the laws are on tax assessments in your area.
You also want to check for any special assessments being charged against the property. Depending on what the special assessment pays for, it could be a significant added expense for several years.
Local zoning ordinances dictate what types of uses are allowed in which areas. Simply owning a property doesn't mean you can use it for whatever you want. The property has to be zoned for your use. Checking a property's zoning and its allowed uses is especially important with commercial real estate. If you want to convert a property into an office building, but the zoning is strictly residential, you could end up with a piece of real estate you have no use for.
Just as important as the property itself is the neighborhood it's in. How are property values in the neighborhood trending? If they're going down, you could start off losing money right away. If it's in a high-crime area, you may have a difficult time selling the property later or finding tenants if you're buying a rental property.
An environmental study is a very common part of the purchasing process for commercial real estate. By having an environmental study done before buying a commercial property, you'll not only find out whether there is any contamination affecting it but also protect yourself from any liability that could result from contamination by previous owners.
If it's bad enough, some contamination might require expensive cleanup. A contaminated property may also have restrictive covenants placed on it that limit what can be done with it or be subject to ongoing testing.
Real estate investing is all about making a return on your investment. If you're doing due diligence on investment property, you'll want to review the property's financials for the past three years for:
- Gross rent collected.
- Vacancy rate.
- Maintenance/repair expenses.
- Utility expenses.
- Marketing expenses.
- Insurance expenses.
- Property taxes.
- Net operating income (NOI).
This is how you will determine whether the investment will give you a big enough return on the price you pay for it. It's usually a good idea to review these financials with your real estate broker or a CPA with real estate experience.
Homeowners insurance doesn't typically cover flood damage without specific flood insurance. If the property is in a flood zone, you'll not only have the additional expense of maintaining flood insurance but also a greater likelihood that the property will suffer from flood damage at some point. If it is in a flood zone, talk to a homeowners insurance company agent to find out what the cost will be for flood insurance.
Due diligence on a residential property vs. a commercial property
The intended uses of residential and commercial properties are obviously quite different. With a residential property, you'll mostly be looking for things that will affect whether you or your tenants will be able to live in the property. With a commercial property, you'll be more concerned with how the property will support the business or businesses that will occupy it. When buying as an investment, the value of a commercial property will depend greatly on its current leases.
Some common questions you'll want to ask are:
- What's the current vacancy rate?
- What is each tenant's lease rate?
- How much time is remaining on each lease?
- What are the tenants' renewal options?
You'll also want to take a close look at who the tenants are. Are they businesses that are doing well and likely to stay, or are they at risk of closing?
Due diligence on commercial real estate usually involves a lot more research into the local market and its demographics. The success of most businesses depends greatly on their location, so you want to be sure the location is right before buying a commercial property. When studying the market as part of your due diligence for commercial real estate, some common things you'll want to look at include:
- Population changes.
- Household income trends.
- Crime rates.
- Public transportation.
- New developments.
- New businesses.
- Businesses closing.
- Unemployment rate.
- Property value trends.
Proper due diligence is one of the most important steps in purchasing real estate. If the property isn't what you thought it was, it may suddenly be worth a lot less than what you paid for it, and you could have a hard time selling it to somebody else. You can't return it, so be sure that you're making a well-informed decision when you decide to close on a property.