Background Check: Why It’s Important to Check a Home’s Utilities History

by Carson BuckSeptember 3, 2018

Understanding Your Home’s Energy Usage Before You Buy

When you’re buying a new home, and especially when you’re buying your first home, it can be tempting to charge forward, throwing caution to the wind. In this scenario, you begin the closing process before you find anything that might change your mind about the home you’ve fallen in love with – but what if something ends up being wrong with the property?

Sometimes people charge ahead without an inspection, or despite what an inspection turns up. Sometimes people move forward quickly, in spite of issues with the property, the neighborhood, or the local schools. Often times, people charge ahead without investigating the utility history of the home they are hoping to purchase. This last one can be a very costly mistake – one that you’d do well to avoid; here’s why.

understanding utility history

Understanding What It Will Cost to Heat Your New Home

Checking in with your local natural gas provider can provide you with a great deal of information regarding what it takes to heat your home in the winter months. Many local utilities will provide you with the average costs for the home you are considering. Some may even give you the home’s entire history; it all depends on their privacy policy.

Learning What It Will Cost to Cool Your Home in the Summer

Consulting with your local electricity company can also shed some light on the home you are about to purchase. What does it cost to keep it cool in the hottest months of the year? What were the prior owners paying for electricity during the darkest hours of winter (or the holidays)? Has an energy usage evaluation ever been conducted for the home, and if so, what did it turn up?

understanding utility history

Getting Stuck With Old Bills, Equipment, or Both

Lastly, getting into the utility history of the home you are hoping to purchase can yield some major surprises. Let’s say the home you are considering is vintage, but it only has natural gas bills that go back a decade or so. This could be a clear indication that it was heated with oil until very recently.

Now, this isn’t necessarily an issue in and of itself. However, if the previous owners simply disconnected a leaky oil tank buried behind a wall in the basement or out in the side yard, you could be looking at costly clean-up bills down the line.

Or, imagine what if it indicates that there is a twenty-year gap in your prospective home’s garbage collection history. Did you look in the basement/crawl space/attic?

While nightmare scenarios like these are sensational and rare, a real unpleasant surprise that often comes from investigating a home’s utility history is that back utility bills (from prior owners or tenants) may be lurking. As the home’s new owner, it may be hard for you to get out of paying these bills, depending on your local laws.

understanding utility history

Utilities Are Worth Considering as Part of Your Home Purchasing Decision

It can be far too easy to get caught up in a property’s potential or the allure of a new home and to forget the details of what it will be like to actually live there. Utilities, after the mortgage payment, are comparable or greater than general maintenance costs over the life of a home. Because of this, it definitely pays to check with your local utilities, if only to make sure that you’re not in for some unpleasant surprises.

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About The Author
Carson Buck
Carson is a real estate agent based out of Phoenix, Arizona. Carson loves data and market research, and how readily available it is in today's world. He is passionate about interpreting these insights to help his clients find and buy their perfect home. Carson got into the real estate industry because he loves the feeling of handing over the keys to a new home to happy clients. In his free time, he works on his backyard bonsai garden and spends time with his wife, Julia.