21 Questions On Real Estate Site Data

Answering these twenty-one questions about a site will provide an excellent “snapshot” of a specific location.  Every appraiser in the country would “love” to have this site data prior to beginning an assignment.  As a buyer of real estate, these questions are imperative to understanding the “place” and its surroundings.

A review of the answers provides an initial gestalt. The real value is in having all of this information in one place and accessible to those that are parties to the transaction, namely; those on your transaction team.

Whether reviewing a real estate asset for acquisition, financing, or some other purpose, collecting this baseline data can jump-start the process and save tons of time over the course of completing the transaction.  Most of the data points are common sense, some require cursory research or a phone call.  All of these items are for independent verification and best accomplished “on the ground” during a site visit.

1. Name of the site.  What is the common and “street name” of the address?  Many commercial assets have a name, a street address, and aka (also known as). Some have a well-established name, others do not. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is also known as “The Met”.  Document all known names in the site data.

2. Address including zip code.  The address and zip are imperative for accomplishing further layers of research, like obtaining traffic pattern data, census and block group numbers, and crime statistics.

3. Site Contact Information. This will vary depending on the type of transaction, but assuming the site is something other than raw ground there should be “someone” on site.  However,  the site person may not be the contact person for the business at hand.  Who/where is the real contact person for getting the deal done?

4. Location. A short description of how to find the place.  We have the address, but what are the cross streets?  What part of town?

5. Legal Description including lot and block number.  Some refer to this as the description of boundaries.

6. Lot size with dimensions.   This includes length and width, preferably with a rough drawing that reflects proximity to streets.

7. Gross acreage.  This is a simple number extracted from the lot size dimensions and converted to square feet.  For example, a lot size of 150 X 400 = 60,000 square feet, or 1.377 acres.

8. Zoning.  What is the existing zoning? Are there zoning changes in the process?  Is current zoning aligned with current usage? What about the zoning of appurtenant land?

9. Improvements.  A paragraph describing existing structures and landscaping.  Total square feet, year built, current usage.  A short narrative on condition.

10. Site Characteristics. Write down what you see. What is the contour of the ground, the height of the building?  Give the reader a “sense of place” in a few short sentences.

11. Fire District.  What is the official name of the governmental agency charged with fire response? Where are the closest fire hydrant and fire station?

12. Water/Sewer provider.  Name and telephone number of who to call to turn on/off basic services.  Sounds simple, but with so many overlapping jurisdictions it can take more than a minute.  Important to know for verification of utility billing specific to an address.  On more than one occasion a seller has provided utility bills that were for a property other than the one being sold.  Also, inquire about any necessary deposits to initiate service.

13.  Electrical service provider.   Name and telephone number of who to call to turn on/off basic services.  See #12.

14. Gas/natural gas provider. Name and telephone number of who to call to turn on/off basic services.  See #12.  Newer properties may be all-electric.  If this is the case, then state that here.

15. Flood Plain information.  Is the property in a flood plain?  If yes is it a 100-year floodplain or something else? Placement in a floodplain impacts insurance rates, so this is “must know” information.

16. Taxing Authority.  Who does the real estate tax bill come from? What is the mil rate? When was the last assessment?  When was the last increase?  Does a title transfer initiate a new assessment?  One phone call, at least five questions to ask…

17.  Police and 911. Telephone number of local police responders.  Depending on location, this could be local police, Sheriff, State Troopers.  Find out.  And get their phone number.  Also, is 911 operational and what are average response times to calls?

18. School District.  What is the name of the school district?  Name of High School attended by people residing at the site address (if any).  Name of middle school and elementary.  Any private schools nearby?  What is the graduation rate from this high school? What is the average SAT/ACT score of graduates from this high school?  What percentage attend four-year colleges upon graduation?

19. Distance to nearest Grocery anchored shopping. People are creatures of habit.  Aside from work and school, gathering food is a regular occurrence.  The travel time to obtain milk, eggs, and bread is important.  Often there is more than one within one mile, two miles, etc.  How many are there and what other shopping is near the grocer?

20. Distance to the nearest emergency medical services. Medical service providers congregate near medical facilities. What is the distance to these facilities and service providers?  Is there an urgent care facility close by?

21. Mini-SWOT. In a few lines, write down the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats that come to mind from being on-site.

John Wilhoit is the author of the best selling book on rent roll analysis: How to Read and Rent Roll. See also the companion guide to measuring the quality of rental income: Rent Roll Triangle.  Find JW’s Podcast here.

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