Home Work

Like a Deer in the Headlights

Dec 5, 2002 at 2:06 pm

It wasn't all that long ago while touring our fair city with a lovely couple from New York who where considering the possibility of moving here that I made a discovery.

As we toured, going from neighborhood to neighborhood, we happened to pass through the suburb where I grew up and (theoretically) developed. Up until then I was convinced I'd witnessed everything one could see in a new suburban community, but suddenly and literally out of nowhere I saw a deer passing through a beautifully manicured front yard on a quiet street.

I froze, not believing what I was seeing. I remember it clearly since I began driving off the road onto the berm and had to stop and stare to validate what my eyes were telling me.

Growing up, it was rumored that these four-legged creatures inhabited the area, but to the best of my recollection no one had ever seen one. Even in the rustic greenbelt areas where a few natural trails existed, any reference to other species was accepted with a mystical nostalgia — maybe there were animals around somewhere, but that must have been long, long ago.

In all probability the deer and other animals were there all along, but as the area grew and filled in the availability of natural habitat diminished and the likelihood of occurrences like the one I saw were bound to increase.

In recent weeks I've seen and read reports of animals being sighted locally as they move through suburbia. From deer to coyotes, the number of complaints seems to be on the increase in community after community. Occurrences that once seemed to take place only in the country far, far away from the busy urban areas are increasing in frequency and proximity to the urban core.

Which brings me close but not quite to the subject matter of this week's column.

What effect does the Endangered Species Act have on property values and land development? One would think that among the discussions regarding environmental issues there would be material aplenty on this subject. But that's not the case. To my surprise, the hunt proved sparse and gleaning information was difficult, yielding few results on that specific question.

As the debate continues, it's clear that the battle lines have been drawn between endangered species and how these laws affect property values and new development. From the limited economic analysis that's available, single-family home values are directly impacted and actually decrease in endangered species areas.

With more than half of the 1,200 endangered species currently listed residing on private land, it becomes easy to see why ascertaining the effects of the Endangered Species Act are difficult to determine.

According to U.S. Department of the Interior Counselor to the Secretary David Bernhardt, the act hasn't been modified since 1988 and the current administration is "shifting its focus," emphasizing the conservation of species before they end up on the list. By relying on scientific data, the secretary believes that confidence will be instilled in landowners — although precisely how hasn't been delineated.

What is clear is this: The best interests of endangered species and land developments are at loggerheads. Which leads to the following question: Where do the majority of public land values lie? With environmental heartfelt thoughts or in business profitability? And can Congress take actions that balance the two and define a workable solution?

For now it seems clear that, in addition to all the other factors that figure in the purchase of a new home like schools and church proximity, the wise shopper should inquire about the possible effects our animal neighbors might have on the property's value and livability. It'll help avoid being caught as I was — off-guard like a deer in the headlights.

THIS WEEK'S TIP: Finding Your Dream Home, Part 2
The following points are among the many items that merit attention.

1. What are the cutoff dates for inspections and approvals of the inspection reports? A typical contract provides an opportunity for the buyer to hire experts to check out the condition of the home. From the buyer's perspective, the more time that's allowed for these once-overs the better. Sellers, on the other hand, usually want the inspections completed and signed off as soon as possible.

2. Who is responsible for making repairs, if any, as a result of the inspections? The fact that the buyer orders one or more inspections of a home doesn't obligate the seller to make repairs or modifications as a result of the inspections. In practice, however, inspection reports often are used to negotiate repairs of major problems or safety or environmental hazards that might be noted. The purchase contract should provide some guidance for these negotiations.

3. Is the seller making any representations or warranties regarding the condition of the property? In some contracts, the seller warrants that specified major components of the home (e.g., the roof or central heating or cooling system) are in good repair and working order at the time of sale. Buyers should understand which components of the homes are guaranteed and which are being sold "as-is."

4. Will a home warranty plan be purchased? A home warranty plan is a sort of limited insurance policy covering the basic major systems and appliances in the home. It might seem like a prize for the buyers, but it's equally important for the sellers and the real estate professional representing the seller, as they provide a measure of protection from a buyer who might become irate.

Home Work is a weekly column geared toward residential real estate.