Everyone has their own system for buying a home, whether it's an investment or a primary residence. Here are some time- and money-saving tips from local residential investors, which apply whether you're buying an $85,000 rental or an $850,000 bayfront beauty:
1. Decide in advance how much you can afford. There's no point in wasting time looking at properties that are out of reach or make you dissatisfied with the homes in your price range. If you can't afford a home gym, media room and disappearing-edge pool, don't drool over them.
2. Drive around the areas you like-exhaustively. That means amble up and down every road in the neighborhood. That way you'll get a feel for the community and it's housing stock, traffic and whether there are kids running around (look for basketball hoops in the driveways).
3. Make sure you have a pencil and paper and a cell phone. That way you can jot down the addresses of properties you're interested in, note interesting or annoying features (is the property next door too close to the property line?) and call realtors whose "for sale" signs are out front to get the price.
4. After you get home, log on to the local property appraiser Web site-in Sarasota County, it's www.sarasotaproperty.net-and type in the address. There's a wealth of information on these Web sites. You can look up the square footage of the property, the previous sales of the property you're interested in and look at the values and sales of adjacent properties. Some property appraisers' Web sites (like Collier County's) actually provide a GIS system (geographical information system) of aerial photography that allows you to zoom into the property and examine the exterior at close range. Others, like Manatee County's, provide a sketch of the layout of the house.
5. Talk to the zoning departments in the area where you're considering your purchase. If the area is about to be rezoned from residential to commercial or the neighborhood is requesting an overlay district that would prohibit third stories, prohibit docks or require deep setbacks, you'd better learn about it before making an offer.
6. If you're still interested in the property, make an appointment with the Realtor to tour the property