After house-hunting, negotiating a price and working out details of his move, Patrick O'Leary needed to understand and operate the various mechanical systems in his new 6,000-square-foot home.
He was relieved when the former owner offered to meet him at the East Greenwich, R.I., house to go over its theater equipment, sprinkler system and pool. The seller left O'Leary a list of companies and contractors that have worked on the home.
"They put all the bells and whistles in this house. It would have been difficult to just walk in and understand everything," O'Leary said. "It definitely gives a comfort level."
No law obligates sellers to help buyers learn the idiosyncrasies of a house, but some go to great lengths to help new owners settle in. Buyers should ask about everything from the day-to-day operations of the house to landscaping details to the names of neighborhood babysitters, said Ron Phipps, first vice president of the Chicago-based National Association of Realtors.
"There's so much data you can collect," Phipps said. "It's unfortunate if a buyer doesn't have access to a seller to explain things."
Real estate agents may try to fill in these blanks, but nothing can replace seller insights, said real estate agent Gregg Whitney of La Jolla, Calif. "Invariably, every house has a little something."
The trick to starting a balky dishwasher isn't the only valuable information that can be shared. Westminster, Md., real estate agent Judi Stull remembers when she was 13 and received a nice housewarming gift from the girl who moved out: "a map that listed where all the cute boys in the neighborhood lived. It really helped me feel good and fit in."