While buyers often get enticed by quartz counters, wood floors, or a pretty backsplash, there are more serious factors that consumers should consider before investing in a home, says Lynn Ikle, a real estate agent with Redfin in Howard County, Md.

“Maybe there’s a nice empty space next door, but you need to know if that’s zoned for a Walmart,” Ikle says. “Or you love the yard but need a fence for your dog, but the homeowners’ association won’t allow it. … These are all things buyers should pay attention to before they make an offer.”

Before you buy, here’s how you can find out about everything from noise levels, to environmental dangers, to future neighborhood development plans:

Will my new place be noisy?

Roads, rail schedules, and flight paths are publicly mapped and may be included on some property reports, says Todd Teta, chief product and technology officer for Attom Data Solutions, a property data analytics supplier in Irvine, Calif., which provides free home disclosure reports for individual properties.

You may also want to check community rules if you’re concerned about noise from your neighbors, such as limits on how late parties can be held, whether hard surface floors need to be covered in a high-rise, and whether contractors or landscapers must abide by specific working hours.

Am I at risk for floods and fires?

Mortgage lenders typically check FEMA maps to determine whether flood insurance is required for a property, but you can find out far more about risks from natural hazards and climate change from several sites. For example, ClimateCheck provides ratings for counties, cities, neighborhoods, and zip codes that show their risk for fire, heat, drought, and storms now and in the future.

A Flood Factor score assesses the likelihood of a flood, is available on Redfin listings and directly from First Street Foundation, which produced the score. Consumers can check Free Home Risk for an assessment of both natural and man-made property risks or a free Home Disclosure Report to check for environmental issues such as previous uses or exposure to pollution.

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“The point of these reports is to know whether you’ll have long-term maintenance issues, whether the property is insurable and whether the home value will be impacted by these issues before you make an offer,” says Teta.

Is this a safe neighborhood with good schools?

The U.S. Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibits real estate agents from sharing information about crime and schools. In the past, such information was used to steer white buyers from Black neighborhoods and vice versa. Agents can direct buyers to sources for that information, such as school system websites or ratings sites such as GreatSchools.org.

Consumers can also buy an iHomeReport from Kukun, which costs $39.95 per report and contains information including community safety information and maps with the nearest schools and their ratings.

“We’re like CarFax for a home in that we provide information about permits for past renovations so you can follow up with contractors who worked on your home before,” says Raf Howery, CEO and founder of Kukun, “but we also include everything about the community, including how far it is to walk to a grocery store … and where the nearest hospital is.”

Will my view change?

Newly built communities typically have a map outlining plans for retail sites, schools and amenities, but for an established community or a regional perspective, buyers can ask their real estate agents for insight. Buyers may also want to check county websites for planning updates and to see who owns open land.

"You don't want to buy a house because of the wooded view and discover two years later that the site is being developed into a shopping center," she says.

How much do utilities cost?

Some jurisdictions require sellers to provide information to buyers about their utility bills, Ikle says. In other areas, buyers can call the utility company to ask for the 12-month average of electric, water, and gas bills.

“But you need to think about different levels of usage,” says Ikle. “For example, if a home is heated with propane oil, you can ask how often the tank is refilled and how much that costs.”

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If you’re buying a home with solar panels, ask the sellers whether the panels are leased or owned, Ikle says. You may be taking over a lease that will incur monthly costs.

Is the home subject to condo or association rules and fees?

“You need to know the specifics of what’s covered by the fee, such as your water and sewer bill, any community amenities and common area maintenance,” Ikle says. “You need to know, for example, if snow removal just refers to the road, or if it covers your walkway or patio.”

Buyers should review association documents to see if a reserve fund has enough money to avoid special assessments, which could be hundreds or thousands of dollars if a major repair is needed.

Buyers can ask to see an HOA or condo association’s reserve study.

“The bottom line is that there is a high risk of a special assessment when the percent funded, reported in the recent reserve study, is between 0 and 30%,” says Robert Nordlund, CEO of Association Reserves, which provides reserve studies for a variety of property owner associations. “There is a low risk of a special assessment when the percent funded is above 70%.”

Association rules are also important to review for items such as whether you can park an RV or boat on the property, run a home-based business, or change your paint color.

Can I rent my home?

Check to see if there are any restrictions on renting your home for short periods or with an annual lease. Some buildings cap the percentage of units that can be rented at any time, and some prohibit offering a home as an Airbnb.

You can also check local jurisdictions for their rules about property rentals. Some locations ban short-term rentals entirely or allow them only if the homeowner is in residence.