We charge $10 just to cover the cost of our credit checks. We have a free court system website (for Wisconsin only) that we use for criminal background checks.
I always tell buyers to ignore the asking price, figure out what the true market value of the property is, and what it's worth to them. This should be based on market conditions, comparable properties, and how much the buyer really wants that particular property. If it's only worth 415k to you then you may want to offer that or less (depending on how much interest there is). However, you should be prepared to walk away if the sellers won't bite at a low ball and 415k is really your max. I wrote a blog on this topic awhile back that may interest you: http://keithandkinsey.wordpress.com/2011/04/22/how-much-should-i-offer/
Are you looking for a place to live, or a place to invest? There's no better place to live than Verona, WI ;)However, for investments; I'd take $50,000 and buy a rental house for cash in the Indianapolis area, and I'd take the other $50,000 and use it for a 40% down payment on a rental property in the Dallas area.I prefer slow and steady growth markets rather than dramatic ups and downs.
I am also a Wisconsin agent and agree with Malinda, KerryAnn, and Brian. Since your contingency doesn't allow for a radon test. You can always do your own test after you close on the property (Menards or Home Depot sell test kits that you mail in for results). If radon levels come back high, we know of a couple good radon mitigation contractors in the Madison area that typically charge around $800 for a complete system. Feel free to email me if you need some recommendations.
I'm not sure where you are located, but here in Wisconsin, if the damage exceeds 5% of the value of the home the buyer has the option to cancel the contract.
If it's under contract between buyer and seller, then no, it's not a sure thing. If it's under contract between buyer, seller, and the sellers mortgage company, then it's pretty solid. However, anything under contract still as all the hurdles of contingencies, financing, etc. I don't consider anything a "sure thing" until all contingencies are met and the property is ready to close.
The advantage to minimizing the initial loan is lower payments allowing you more flexibility if your income changes in the future. This means less risk down the road, because your monthly payments will be more affordable. I'm an advocate of minimizing debt. So, I'd put down as much as you can while maintaining a an emergency fund, and your retirement funding. Although, there's plenty of good arguments for investing the difference rather than putting extra money down. ...but as Dave Ramsey says, "100% of foreclosed homes had a mortgage." I think life is just more comfortable the less debt we carry.
We own and manage a few rental properties. One of them is Section 8 (low income - rental assistance). I will say the low income property is definitely a little more work and a bit of a headache at times. Although, the low income property cashflows better than the others. We have a scoring system for our tenant screening system that factors in credit scores, debt to income ratios, rental history, job history, etc. It seems to work fairly well. We've had a few tenants that have done damage, but we've had that in the higher end properties too. We use Mrlandlord.com to help with tenant screening and credit checks.With any tenant you have to find the right balance of being friendly and helpful vs hard nose strict landlord. You really have to be careful to treat everyone equally, and give a little when appropriate, but not let anyone take advantage of you.One of our properties is out of state and managed by a management company. The rest of our properties we manage ourselves. I will say, if you are capable of doing the property management yourself, do it. Nobody cares more about the outcome of your property than you do. I just haven't had great luck with management companies (I'm sure there are some great ones though).It's a great investment if you have the tolerance for it. Go for it. Just be conservative when estimating your numbers and cashflow. Things always cost more in the end then newbies plan for.
The Zestimate is a great service for buyers and sellers to get a quick ball park idea. However, it is frustrating when people take everything on the internet as accurate truth and don't want to listen to the advice of local experts. I generally try to show consumers a market analysis of recently sold comps so they can understand the true value (whether it's better or worse than the Zestimate).
I'm assuming you've tried googling the address to see if it comes up with any for sale info? You should be able to find in public tax records who the owner is and then contact them. If your local area does not have a website for tax records, try calling your local assessor.