A home inspector does not prepare or examine differently when going into a foreclosed home, yet there are certain issues that can arise that are unique to these properties. With the number of defaulted loans rising (a trend that will most likely continue into 2009), you may wish to look at a foreclosed property as either an investment or a good value for your new home. This will require you to pay attention to the following areas of concern.
Having Utilities On for an Inspection
Before you or an inspector examine a home, arrange for all the utilities water, electrical and gas to be functioning to determine how well they work. Once they are on, check to see that they are fully on. In one home, my client was told that there was low water pressure. I found that the water had not been turned on all of the way, because it revealed leaks in the faucets. In another home, breakers had been disabled to cover up an electrical problem.
Vandalism and Theft
Look at foreclosures in Detroit, and you will quickly see why the city wants many torn down. The metals used in the mechanical systems have become quite valuable, so thieves have been gutting the homes to the point where they are no longer livable. In Houston, I have found air conditioning units with missing parts. Vacant homes are prime targets for thieves, but they also provide a club house for vandals. I found a hose bib and pipe that had been off, but replaced into the wall, so that water would flow into the wall. Most damage from these vandals involves broken windows, walls and doors.
Pests and Mold
Rats, squirrels, possums, bats and termites want the same thing that we want: a nice quiet place to live. A vacant home can provide this for them. Many foreclosures will sit vacant for some time before they are purchased, so you may find an unwelcome guest or two. Look for signs of animal activity, such as chewed boards or droppings. Mold needs the right conditions to exist, which a well winterized home will not provide. However, if you smell a musty odor, you may want a mold inspection. Some odors may be from an empty toilet or sink trap. Traps hold water to prevent sewer gases from entering the house.
A Work in Progress
Some foreclosures are being repaired by the owner (whether a bank or investor) who has hired a general contractor. I have found some dangerous situations where contractors have left wires dangling or gas spigots on. With the utilities being turned on, a life-threatening situation may occur. Do not assume that the power is off if you see bare wires in the kitchen. An odor is given to natural gas to make it detectable. If you do smell gas, do not turn on any lights, and go outside if you want to use your cell phone to make an emergency call.
This is not so common, but it can result in a little more work on your part in making the home look nice. There has been a trend by some owners to start damaging the home that they are leaving during the foreclosure proceedings. Holes in walls and doors where fists and feet went through are the most common example. Another is damaged wall sockets that people yanked plugs out of them. Sometimes you will find missing appliances or parts to the appliances. Sometimes it's just a case of the owner having no money to make repairs, so little things went undone. You may find that you will have to cleanup after the previous owner, who may have left their personal effects behind.