google maps street view of a home in the summer

It doesn’t hurt to be a little curious — especially when you’re searching for a new home.


Search-engine sleuthing is worth the effort to unearth niceties — and negatives — about a prospective home.

The Google search: Your go-to for everything from searching a blind date’s criminal record to finding reviews of the restaurant you’re headed to that evening to even searching for yourself to find what information about your personal and professional life is available on the interwebs.

No need to be obsessive about your Googling, but it doesn’t hurt to be a little curious — especially when you’re searching for a new home. Here are a few reasons why.

1. Suss out the “street view” situation

Most real estate websites pull in Google Maps images of a home when listing photos aren’t available, so if you spot some work-in-progress shots when you pull up a new listing — especially if the listing says “newly remodeled” — it’s possible that new listing photos haven’t been posted yet.

Google can be helpful in other ways when you’re house hunting, though. Study the Google Maps street view to get a sense of how a home is situated on its lot and what the neighboring properties are like — before you make an appointment to see it in person.

2. Avoid health concerns

The last thing anyone wants is to find out their potential new dream home is located near a former meth lab or directly under a busy flight path to and from the airport. These aren’t just concerns for comfort; in unfortunate (and rare) cases, homes can be health hazards.

When house hunting, be sure to search for whether or not the home is in a safe area. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration maintains a database of homes that have been identified as drug labs, and some of these properties require intensive, expensive cleanup before they can be healthfully inhabited.

Radon and industrial and airport zones are also pretty easily discoverable with a Google search and, in most states, via disclosures that most sellers will provide. (Some people find living near an airport or other noisy zone impacts their sleep, even if there is no chemical concern.)

3. Get details on the HOA situation

When you buy a home that is part of a homeowners’ association (HOA), you’ll almost always get a hefty package of disclosures directly from the seller and the association that detail critical need-to-knows such as the community budget, rules, and board meeting minutes. But any troubling info about your new HOA might be a little harder to find.

A quick Google search can tip you off to potential issues. A surprising number of HOAs have been reviewed by Yelp, and you’ll likely find a variety of rants (and raves) about the subdivision, complex, managers, neighbors, and amenities on that platform.

HOA search results can unearth everything from neighbors decrying the fact that high dues delinquencies are preventing them from refinancing to unit owners giving building managers kudos for turning around the maintenance issues. Some reviews also discuss how association rules are enforced — or not, as the case may be.

4. Scope out potential nuisances

Permit applications that have been recently filed with local authorities can usually be turned up by a quick Google search and can help you discover community plans for expansion around your new (or current) property.

If you’re buying, it’s helpful to know in advance if the shopping center behind the property is applying for permits to expand, or if the school across the street is seeking permits for 100 more students (and a plan to accommodate 100 more cars at pickup time). Nine times out of ten, this kind of search won’t reveal anything of concern. But reading online permit applications — and your neighbor-to-be’s city council meeting arguments against the permit — might help you understand the landscape of community development issues at hand and make a more informed decision about buying.

On the other hand, some planning issues may render a property more attractive to you than it was before. You may learn that Chipotle and Whole Foods are coming to the neighborhood in 2016, and the neighbors are buzzing with excitement. Or you may find that the neighbors fought to preserve walking trails from being developed, and the local authorities respected their wishes and kept the natural areas.

What surprising information (good or bad) has Google revealed about a home during your house hunt? Share your stories in the comments below!