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By Trulia
August 16, 2015

Sure, that newly rehabbed condo looks great in photos, but what’s really behind the rapturous real estate listing? When it comes to assessing a potential new home, the savvy buyer knows to go full True Detective (first season, at least) and relentlessly sleuth.

That waterfall showerhead is beautiful and all, but how’s the water pressure? If the laundry area is near the living room, will you still be able to hear the TV when the dryer is going? Do the neighbors frequently enjoy late-night ragers? How does the walkability score match up to the quality of the area’s amenities? Make like a bloodhound and take your new home for a test-drive — before you submit an offer.

1. Surreptitious visits

Before you even step foot in a potential new place, play the role of obsessed ex and drive by a few times. What’s the foot traffic like outside the home? Do the strolling neighbors look more like young professionals or marrieds with children? How much noise do the neighbors make? (Sneak in a Saturday night visit to get the full taste.) If you drive to work, role-play your morning or evening commute and time how long it takes you to get between locations.

2. Walking tour

Once you’ve stalked the place by vehicle, it’s time to do the same on foot. See how long it takes you to get to the nearest coffee shop or restaurant, and assess their quality once you arrive. (A walkability score considers only quantity, not quality, of amenities.) Suss out the nearest public transportation stations. And gauge the condition of the sidewalks and public plantings — a well-manicured neighborhood suggests stronger civic engagement.

3. Water world

Don’t get seduced by the stand-up shower with the exposed copper pipes and wraparound glass doors — take that sucker for a quick spin. (Really, it’s not that weird.) How hard is the pressure? How quickly does the water heat up? Test the bathroom and kitchen sinks while you’re at it. Water pressure shouldn’t be a deal breaker, but low pressure could indicate a damaging leak, and no one likes first-shower-in-a-new-home disappointment.

4. Windows test

Even if it’s chilly out, open a window or two, especially in the room that might serve as your master bedroom. Can you hear a lot of traffic? Neighborly noise? Does your window seem to bring in a lot of cross breezes, or is the airflow blocked by neighboring buildings? When the windows are closed, can you feel drafts around the edge of the frames that may increase heating and cooling costs?

5. Go into the light

If the open house happens on a cloudy stay, schedule a daytime follow-up visit when the sun is out. See how much natural light flows through each room, especially high-traffic areas. If a room seems especially dark, consider whether the paint color is exacerbating the effect. Conversely, you’ll want to see how dark the bedrooms can get. On that same sunny day, close all the shades in all the bedrooms and see how much light still filters through; you might want to throw room-darkening shades onto your punch list.

6. Listen up

This is a biggie — condo sounds in particular can become annoyances that drive homeowners insane. Make multiple visits to a unit to catch surrounding neighbors when they’re home and making noise. If there are multiple condos for sale in the building, bring a friend and have her walk around upstairs and/or in an adjacent unit to see how noise travels. And don’t be afraid to ask if little kids live in the building; the pitter-patter of little feet is far less charming to those who live below them.

Once you’ve assessed interunit noise levels, it’s time to determine how sound travels within the home. Turn on the dryer to hear how loud it is. Have your friend march around in the guest bedroom to determine how thick the walls are. If you’ll need to invest in sound insulation and throw rugs, it’s better to know now.

7. Scope out storage

Some sellers clear their homes of all clutter; many others don’t. But rather than turn up your nose at an overstuffed bedroom closet, take out the tape measure and record some dimensions. The space might be a lot larger than it seems; you can also take those measurements home and plan out a closet scheme online to see how much stuff it can really handle.

8. Don’t forget your marbles

Are those hardwood floors level? Bring a marble to find out. (Perfect excuse to hit up a toy store!) When you’re alone in a room, discreetly place the marble on the hardwood floors: Does it stay put or start rolling? If the slope is especially steep, there might be a structural problem at play, but even a slightly uneven floor can become a bargaining chip during the escrow period.

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